Shifting demographics have often been associated with changes in voting behavior and preferences. The aging of the population, with a larger proportion of older adults as compared to younger adults, could shift voting preferences toward policies and programs that favor the old. The results of the July 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom demonstrated this – older cohorts overwhelmingly voted to exit the European Union, while younger Millennials wanted to stay in, largely because of the mobility benefits that being in the EU confer.
But where do shifting racial demographics fit in to electoral choice and outcomes? An intriguing op-ed article in the New York Times (Badger, 2017) points to the potential impact racial diversity has on political choices in the United States. In communities where rapid change in racial composition is occurring, individuals may be more likely to embrace xenophobia and racism, much more so than in places that are highly diverse and that have embraced their diversity.
Badger uses California as an example of how changing racial diversity is linked to voting preference. In the 1980s, voters supported Proposition 187, which was meant to deny services such as health care and education to undocumented migrants, and re-elected a Republican Governor against a backdrop of concern over undocumented immigration. Over the next 20 years, racial diversity within California grew, with the electorate embracing this diversity and enabling policies and programs that benefited or protected immigrants and other minority populations – a clear shift from its earlier stance.
The thinking is that in places where racial diversity is seen as a threat, individuals will vote more conservatively than in places where diversity is accepted. Indeed, rural and small town America is becoming increasingly diverse, as immigrants follow job opportunities, particularly in the resources sector. But their arrival may lead to division and distrust between the new immigrant arrivals and the native-born population – a distrust that can find voice in politics. In the 2016 election, President Trump did well in places that were becoming more diverse – particularly in rural and small town America. For example, places that have seen rapid change in their racial makeup often voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and had switched from voting Democratic in earlier elections. While giving voice to many in America, an anti-immigrant stance could harm the Republican Party over the longer-term (at least while candidates oppose immigration or racial diversity), with the Democratic Party benefitting. Of course, the shift favoring Democratic candidates in more racially diverse areas will only occur if minority voters continue to support the Democratic Party.
Emily Badger. 2017. Strife Over Immigrants: Can California Foretell Nation’s Future? The New York Times, 1 February 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/upshot/strife-over-immigrants-can-california-foretell-nations-future.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0