That Time Mitt Romney Lost 83 Percent of Minority Voters

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect

The Pew Research Center has done its full analysis of the Census Bureau’s report on the diversifying American electorate, and it confirms the big takeaway from the 2012 elections—Republicans are in trouble with minority voters.

Mitt Romney won just 17 percent of nonwhite voters in the 2012 election. That includes African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and all other groups that fall under the umbrella of “nonwhite.” If last year were an aberration—if nonwhites were projected to fall as a share of the electorate—this would be a concern, but not a huge one. But the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

Nonwhites were 26.3 percent of all voters last year. This is a record high, but it’s still below their overall share of the adult population—33.9 percent. By 2020, minorities will comprise 37.2 percent of all voters, and by 2060 it will be 54.8 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

What makes this even more significant is that the fastest growing nonwhite group, Latinos, is also one of the youngest. “By dint of generational replacement,” writes Pew, “they will become a more important voting bloc in future elections.” At the moment, however, Hispanics have a low turnout rate—only 48 percent voted in the 2012 election. They are numerous, but their political clout isn’t quite as strong as is commonly portrayed.

The voting strength of African Americans, by contrast, is out-of-proportion to their numbers. The Census Bureau report clearly shows that—for the first time ever—black voter turnout surpassed white turnout, 66.2 percent versus 64.1 percent. African Americans, who are 12 percent of the voting age population, were 13 percent of the electorate.

I’ve already written about the implications of this for GOP outreach efforts. Given limited resources, Republicans would get more bang for their buck if they invested in growing their share of the black vote—to the 11 percent won by George W. Bush—rather than run after Latino voters, who are concentrated in non-competitive states. African American voters, by contrast, are overrepresented in the most critical swing states on the map: Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

If there’s a question, it’s this: Will blacks continue to turnout in high numbers, or was 2012 sui generis, on account of Barack Obama and the nationwide controversy over voter suppression? The available evidence—medium-term turnout trends—points to the former. Since 1996, according to Pew, black turnout has been on the increase. Indeed, the change from 2004 to 2008 is only slightly greater than the change from 2000 and 2004, and the change from 2008 to 2012 is smaller than the change from 1996 to 2000. Take a look:

We talk about black turnout as if it’s driven by external events—the presence of a black presidential candidate, for example. This information is consistent with that view. But there’s another possibility: African Americans might just be the kinds of people who come out to vote in presidential elections, and do so in high numbers.

If that’s true, and whites continue to decline in the electorate, then their political clout will only grow over time—especially if they maintain their overall share of the population. I’m not sure what that means for public policy, but barring big changes, it’s certainly bad for Republican politics.