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How Once-Reliable Voting Blocs Have Changed


Let's go to demographics now. There's been a lot of study of the demographics this year that could decide this election and a lot of money being spent targeting voters who could tip the vote. So we're joined now in studio by NPR's Asma Khalid who spent this election season studying the intersection of demographics and politics. Also with us is NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro. And we're joined by Bill Frey. He's a demographer at the Brookings Institution. That's a research institute here in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much for joining us for this.



MARTIN: So, Domenico, let's start with you because as journalists we spend a lot of time talking about these issues. But for people who aren't, is there a data point that you think people need to know to understand where the country is and where it's going?

MONTANARO: I mean, the first thing to think about is the fact that the white vote has been on a steady decline over the past generation. You know, consider in 1976, the white vote was 89 percent. Eighty-nine percent of all voters were white.

This time around, it could be at or below 70 percent or thereabouts for the first time in American history, and that has had profound effects on our politics. Think about the fact that a majority of kindergartners are now non-white. By 2020, by the next presidential election, non-whites will be a majority of all children. And by 2044, no racial group will be a majority in this country.

MARTIN: Asma, do you want to add something to this?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Yeah. The one other thing that I think is really interesting about the way the electorate looks now is that it's just much more highly educated than it has been. We've been hearing so much this election cycle about white working-class voters. Right? And if you look at 1980, you'll see that white working class made up about two-thirds of the electorate. If you look then at the 2012 election, I believe they were only about a third of all the voters who cast their ballots in 2012, so it is a shrinking population. There is just a much larger percentage of people getting a college degree, and that's particularly the case when you look at younger voters, millennials.

MARTIN: I want to dig into a couple of different demographic groups in just a minute. But, Bill Frey, I'd love to hear from you on this as well. I'm particularly interested in this whole question of identity politics. I mean, we've heard this term used in the past. Generally people have been talking about minority groups when they use that term, but I wondered, you know, is that still a relevant and useful way to look at this election? Is this election really about identity?

FREY: Well, to some degree it is. I mean, I think, you know, what Domenico and Asma had said are both two things that are very important. We're becoming more racially diverse, and the white educated population's important in what's going on, and we see both of this - people identifying with all of those groups - Hispanics, blacks, Asians and sort of college whites.

But the other piece of this is that the country is shifting at different paces in different ways. And when we look at the Sunbelt now, we see a lot of those Sunbelt states in democratic - within reach of Democrats. And Barack Obama made that happen in North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and so forth. But on the other side of it, even though the country may be less than 70 percent white in terms of their voters, not the case for Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - and I think there is the rub. We do have identity politics, but that identity means something different in different parts of the country.

MARTIN: Can we talk, Asma, about the Latino vote? We've been hearing, you know, for years this is kind of the sleeping giant, just, you know, about to surge, really become important in our politics. Is that happening this year?

KHALID: I think that that is the question on everybody's minds. We've seen in some of the early voting data so far, particularly in Nevada and in Florida, a much larger Hispanic turnout. And I think that that could suggest larger participation in the overall Latino vote, but that - I don't know that we'll really know the final answer until Election Day - right? - because these could be Hispanics who are just showing up at an earlier point to vote. I think a lot of analysts will say that they don't think that that's the case that Donald Trump has really energized the Latino community in ways. And if we look at Florida, in particular, I mean, it's really interesting. The Clinton camp was just saying that they're seeing Hispanic turnout that is over 100 percent higher at this point than what they saw in 2012.

MARTIN: Domenico, what about black voters?

MONTANARO: Black voters are key to - they're a key pillar for the Democratic Party. And, you know, when Bill talks about the Midwest and especially the upper Midwest, you think about places like Michigan and Wisconsin. You know, Barack Obama outpaced his white share of the electorate. He won 44 percent of white voters in Michigan, but he was buoyed unquestionably by black voters in that state. That's why you see Obama going back to Michigan now, why you see him - why you see the Clinton campaign going to be in Philadelphia and in Detroit. These are places where if the blue wall were to hold, it's because of black voters in large measure and the Clinton campaign knows it has to get them out to vote and get them fired up.

MARTIN: Now, Frey, I'm going to go back to you on this, and if I have time, Asma, I'm going to ask you about millennials. But, Bill, I wanted to ask you at the beginning of our conversation I asked if there's one data point that you think people should be thinking about. I wanted to ask you that question as a person who's been looking at this for such a long time.

FREY: Well, you know, I think one thing that's relevant to this election is turnout. In the 2012 election, blacks had a higher turnout rate than whites in the United States. And that's important for those Midwest states where the black population is the bigger part of the minority populations. So I think that's one thing to watch. Will that turnout stay the same? And will it get higher for Hispanics who only had about a 50 percent turnout last time? Will that be boosted upward? I think those two things are going to be very important to look at on Tuesday.

MARTIN: Asma, what about millennials? And I'm not going to you on this just because you are one.

KHALID: (Laughter) Because I am an older millennial.

MARTIN: Because you are one but millennials are taking over now. This is the biggest group. You've displaced the baby boomers. And...

KHALID: Yeah. They have, and everyone keeps saying that, you know, will they show up on Election Day because if all the millennials did show up on Election Day, they really could rival the political power of baby boomers. But, look, historically folks who are younger voters just don't show up at the same rates. And I would say that's not really unique to millennials. When we look at Gen-Xers or even some of the baby boomers when they were younger, they had the same participation levels.

MARTIN: Why did you point at me? Why did she point at me...


KHALID: I think the one big question about this election cycle that we've heard is that throughout the primary season, Bernie Sanders really resonated with some of these younger voters. And will Hillary Clinton be able to pull out the same kind of margins of victory that Barack Obama did? Certainly, you know, millennials are definitely trending toward the Democratic Party. I think all of the polls confirm that. The question is just will she have the same margins that - margins of victory.

MARTIN: Domenico, final thought...

MONTANARO: But they are huge. They are a huge bloc. They're bigger than Gen X. They are going to start now over the next 35 years to be the dominant political force in American politics.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Asma Khalid and NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. We were also joined by Bill Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution. Thank you all so much for your work throughout this election season. Thank you for being here today.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure.

KHALID: You're welcome.

FREY: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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