Advertisement

Election 2002: The demographic trends

By
STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent

(Part of UPI's Special Report on Election 2002)

LOS ANGELES (UPI) -- In the short run, elections are decided by personalities, scandals, hot issues, and voter mood swings.

Advertisement

In the long run, however, the impact of these quick-changing factors tend to even out between the parties, leaving demographics as a fundamental force.

Here is a summary of trends in the politically crucial demographic categories of race/ethnicity, gender, and class.


Race and Ethnicity

Hispanics -- Much attention has been paid to the growing numbers of Hispanic since 2000. Latinos surprised many observers by catching up to African-Americans in numbers by the 2000 Census. President George W. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, has endorsed the idea that Republicans can and must win a larger fraction of the Latino electorate.

Yet, the actual size of the current Hispanic electorate may well be smaller than is widely imagined in the press. A large proportion of Hispanics are not citizens, and those who are tend to vote at lower rates than other citizens.

The Voter News Service exit poll in 2000 reported that Hispanics cast 7 percent of the vote. That number has been recounted by the media ever since, often along with crude extrapolations claiming that the Hispanic share is sure to rise to 8 percent or even 9 percent by 2004.

Advertisement

There are two problems with this conventional wisdom, however. First, the VNS actually came up with 6.5 percent (it was rounded up to 7 percent). Second, the much larger study of voter participation conducted by the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey in the two weeks following the election found the Hispanic share to be only 5.4 percent. (UPI reported this news first, in July 2001.)

The pro-Democratic Party analysts John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, whose recent book "The Emerging Democratic Majority" has been widely discussed, use the lower figure of 5.4 percent rather than 6.5 percent, writing, "We generally consider the CPS estimates to be more reliable."

The Hispanic share is certainly growing rapidly -- according to the Census Bureau, it's up from 3.6 in 1988 to 4.7 percent in 1996 to 5.4 percent in 2000. Yet, if recent trends continue, it will likely reach somewhere around 5.8 percent this November, well below many journalists' expectations.

Commentators often warn the GOP that unless they find ways to appeal to Latinos, they are imminently facing the same dire fate nationally as has befallen them in California. There, Latinos cast 13.9 percent of the vote in 2000, up from 11.4 percent in 1994. Bush spent $20 million in California to Al Gore's nothing, yet still lost by 11 points.

Advertisement

The problem with analogizing from the rise of Hispanic Democrats in California to the country as a whole is that this overlooks the enormous white flight from California to other Western states like Utah and Idaho during the mid-1990s, which helped make those small states more Republican.

From 1990 to 1999, according to University of Michigan demographer William H. Frey, 2.2 million more California residents moved to other states than other Americans moved to California.

Frey, who is also with the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., pointed out, "Another cause of the rise of the California Democrats is selective out-migration of the more rock-ribbed Republicans. The folks who have been leaving California's suburbs for other states have the white, middle-class demographic profiles of Republican voters. California's middle-class families are being squeezed out by real estate prices. And Republicans are heading for whiter states where they won't have to pay taxes for so many social programs for the poor."

Many, in fact, of those who left California were military aircraft engineers, a highly Republican group who suffered much downsizing after the Cold War ended.

While white flight from California fueled that state's Hispanic rise, there is virtually no white flight from the United States as a whole, so the California analogy is only partially valid. The nation is also about eight times more populous than California, so the impact of Hispanic immigration and high birth rates are more diluted.

Advertisement

Nonetheless, the steady growth in Hispanics poses a major long term challenge for the GOP, because winning over Hispanics hasn't proven easy for Republicans. While Hispanics are sometimes claimed to be volatile swing voters, they have loyal, but not fanatical Democratic voters since John F. Kennedy's run.

Judis and Teixeira argue: "Although President Bush has, on Rove's advice, loudly courted Hispanic voters, they don't seem particularly receptive. In 2000, for instance, Bush pursued California's Hispanics extensively while Gore neglected the state; but Bush still received only 28 percent of the Golden State's Hispanic vote."

Further, politically ambitious Hispanics have tended to run as Democrats. Where people with leadership skills go, followers often follow. Judis and Teixeira continue, "Bush did better in his home state of Texas, winning 43 percent of its Hispanic vote. But even there, the broader political trend suggests Hispanics are making the Democratic party their political home. In this year's races for the Texas statehouse and state legislature, Hispanics ran in just four Republican primaries -- and lost all of them. By contrast, Hispanic candidates ran in 39 Democratic primary contests and won 35, including the gubernatorial primary... ."

Nationally, the Democrats have a solid hold on Hispanic registered voters. In a poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Foundation, some 49 percent identified themselves as Democrats, compared to merely 20 percent who said they are Republican. In contrast, whites said they were Republicans by a 37 percent to 24 percent margin.

Advertisement

President Bush appears to be more popular among Hispanics than his party, but he won't be on the ballot in November.

Moreover, Republican Hispanics are quite economically liberal. The Pew and Kaiser analysts reported, "Registered Latinos who identify as Republicans take a much more liberal stand on taxes and the size of government than their white counterparts. ... About half (52 percent) of registered Latinos who identified themselves as Republicans said they would rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government, while only 17 percent of white Republicans stated that view."

In fact, on this tax and spend question, Hispanic Republicans are slightly more liberal than white Democrats.

Prominent demographic commentator Joel Kotkin of Pepperdine University and the Milken Institute of Santa Monica suggests that in the long run the current Democratic coalition between working class Hispanics in places like gritty Riverside County east of Los Angeles and upper middle class whites in places like posh Marin County north of San Francisco is unstable.

"There is a fundamental contradiction between those who want growth and those who want the comfortable life of the French and German bourgeoisie," he said. "The secret agenda of Marin Co. is to keep things so expensive through environmental restrictions that none of 'them' can move there."

Advertisement

The Republicans, however, have yet to find a way to fully exploit this apparent contradiction, just as Latino Catholic opposition to abortion hasn't yet translated into many Republican votes.

--

Blacks -- The black population isn't growing as fast as the Latino segment, due to less immigration and a lower birthrate of about 2.2 babies per black woman in comparison 3.1 per Hispanic woman (according to the National Center for Health Statistics). But most voters tend to be 30 or over, so the higher black birthrates of decades past are still driving up black numbers steadily. Blacks tend to be politically well-motivated and vote steadily. In 2000, they comprised 11.5 percent of the electorate.

During the Bush-Rove years, Republicans have not particularly tried to appeal to blacks as they did when they nominated Jack Kemp for vice president in 1996 (and won 12 percent of the black vote, compared to about 9 percent for George W. Bush). Kemp offered strong urban programs and was able to appeal to African-American voters. The GOP has reserved most of its outreach energy for Hispanics and Arabs and Muslims. The latest Gallup poll shows Democratic candidates for Congress claiming an overwhelming 96 percent of the black vote in November. Black women are the most lopsidedly Democratic of all demographic segments.

Advertisement

--

Asians -- They represent roughly 2 percent of the voting population now and are growing due to steady immigration, although their birthrates are not terribly high. Democrats have picked up a relatively large number of Asian-Americans votes in recent years. Bill Clinton earned only 30 percent of their vote in 1992, but Al Gore won a majority -- 55 percent in the VNS exit poll and 62 percent in the Los Angeles Times poll.

--

Arabs and Muslims -- There are probably somewhat more than 2 million Muslim immigrants in the United States, Daniel Pipes and Khalid Duran estimated in a publication of the Center for Immigration studies. Many Americans of Arab descent who came in earlier migrations are Christians from Lebanon and Syria.

Republican operative Grover Norquist worked for several years to win over America's rapidly growing Arab and Muslim groups. In one of the 2000 presidential debates, Bush took valuable time to denounce two anti-terrorist measures that he said discriminated against Middle Easterners. This won him the endorsement of most Arab and Muslim organizations.

Presumably, Bush's demand for regime change in Iraq, combined with the opposition of 61 percent of House Democrats to his war resolution, may hamper this Republican outreach initiative.

Advertisement

--

Non-Hispanic Whites -- That leaves the largest but least discussed racial-ethnic bloc: whites. They cast 81 percent of the vote in 2000 and, while declining in numbers, will continue to dominate American politics for decades to come.

From one perspective, Bush's big problem in 2000 was not his poor performance among nonwhites (only about one-tenth of his vote came from minorities, versus three-tenths for Gore), but his weak performance among whites. In California, Bush even lost the white vote. Nationally, he carried only 54 percent of whites, compared to the 59 percent that his father won in 1988, UPI calculated that if Bush had won 57 percent of the white vote in 2000, he would have earned an Electoral College landslide of 367-171. (In reality, he slipped by 271-267).

The GOP has yet to solve this problem -- Gallup forecasts that it will only carry 55 percent of the white vote in November.

On the other hand, Republicans seem to be doing better than Democrats at growing the next generation of white voters. After the 2000 election, UPI calculated that Bush won the 19 states with the highest white birth rate. The states where Bush won a majority in 2000 had a 16 percent higher birth rate overall than the states where Gore and Nader combined won the majority. Presumably, differences within those states made the overall disparity in white fertility by party even greater.

Advertisement


Gender

The much-vaunted "gender gap" remains largely a wash. In the latest Gallup Poll, likely voters who are male say they'll vote for a Republican for the House in November by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. Women favor the Democrats 55 percent to 45 percent.

What's truly striking is the "marriage gap" among women. Gallup found only 32 percent of single women saying they'll vote Republican, compared to 58 percent of married women. In fact, Republicans did slightly better among married women than among married men (54 percent). Overall, the members of the "married with children" category say they'll vote Republican by an ample 59 percent to 41 percent.

In the long run, the ratio of single women to married women will probably grow due to the lower marriage rates of younger women. This bodes well for the Democrats. Still, the gender gap has been around at least since Ronald Reagan's two sweeping victories, so it has largely been matched by the Republican advantage among men.


Class

Kotkin's colleague at the Milken Institute, demographer William Frey (also of the University of Michigan) pointed out to UPI that "California is a 'barbell' state" -- one with lots of people at the top of the ladder and lots toward the bottom, but relatively few in the middle.

Advertisement

Kotkin argued, "Without even quite understanding it, the Democrats have become the party of the new aristocracy. When I moved to California 25 years ago, everyone knew the Republicans had all the money. Now, a lot of billionaires are Democrats. The GOP is becoming the party of middle class families."

Kotkin compared the Democrats' appeal to the higher and lower ranks of society to that of the "Tory Democracy" of Victorian British Conservative politicians like Benjamin Disraeli and Randolph Churchill, who sought to unite the nobility and the working class against the middle class, who supported the Liberal Party.

In the Gallup Poll, the Democrats carry 62 percent of those with a post-graduate education and 61 percent of those making less than $30,000. In comparison, the Republicans do best among college graduates (59 percent) and households making $50,000 to $75,000.

Frey predicted that due to white migration within the United States and Hispanic immigration to the nation, Nevada and possibly even North Carolina will follow this path toward greater inequality. This will probably help the Democrats in those regions.

Frey also pointed to what might be called the "Everybody Loves Raymond" voters -- baby boomers who stayed home in a slow-growing Northern industrial state. They often live near their elderly parents and are concerned about how to care for them, which makes Democratic initiatives like a prescription medicine benefit for the elderly attractive to them.

Advertisement

Latest Headlines