Note: This article was written prior to the 2000 presidential election.
(October 2000) The results of the 2000 presidential election and those of several to come will be influenced by sharp regional shifts in America’s voting population, shifts that began in 1990. These new voting blocs are shaped by the continued concentration of new immigrant minorities — Hispanics and Asians — into selected “melting-pot” states; by shifts of white middle-class suburbanites from large coastal metropolises to fast-growing parts of the “New Sun Belt” (states in the South Atlantic and western regions); by the return of African Americans to the South; and by the nonmigration of some of the most sought-after swing groups of voters that George Bush and Al Gore are vying for.
The most dramatic migration-related change in the nation’s voting-age population since 1990 has been the influx of new immigrant minorities. Between Census Day 1990 and Election Day 2000, the combined voting-age populations of Hispanics and Asians will have increased from 19.9 million to 29.5 million. Four states — California, Texas, Florida, and New York — have garnered 61 percent of these gains and are now home to almost two-thirds of the combined Hispanic and Asian voting-age population. These states, combined with Hawaii, New Jersey, and New Mexico, are considered “Melting Pots” (see map) and represent constituencies that are very different from those in other parts of the country.
Whites Move to the New Sun Belt
Migration to the Sun Belt is an old story. What’s new in the past decade is a large component of nostalgic white suburbanites who seek more traditional suburban communities no longer available in the expensive, congested suburbs of the Northeast or in California coastal metropolises. Many of these suburbanites from New York head to Southeast coastal states, and many from California head to the western states. Since 1990, the white voting-age population has increased by more than 22 percent in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado.
Blacks Return to the South
Currently, 53 percent of the nation’s black voting-age population resides in the South. Between 1990 and 1999, the South received a net gain in black voting-age migrants of 326,225 from the rest of the United States. The newcomers are a mixed group: middle-class blacks drawn to the booming New South economies; working-class blacks who turned away from manufacturing restructuring in the North; and retirees who preferred to relocate in southern communities than in the West.
Minimum Growth, Maximum Impact
There are states in the interior of the country whose gains in voting-age populations have been relatively modest, but the swing voters in these states are important for the upcoming election. These states have larger shares of older, middle-income, and white populations than other parts of the country. Three particular groups of swing voters with a large presence in these states are white working wives, white “forgotten majority” men (white, non-Hispanic men ages 18 to 64 who are not college graduates), and older whites. The shares of these three groups in the combined voting-age populations of key “battleground states” — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri — show the groups’ inflated political clout, compared with other states and with the country as a whole. Together the three groups made up 53 percent of the voting-age population of these states in 1999. In contrast, the groups constituted only 36 percent of the voting-age population of melting-pot states and only 46 percent of the total U.S. voting-age population.
It’s clear that new demographic divides have emerged across the country. More so than in the past, presidential candidates’ speeches, public service announcements, and debates are seen nationwide and must try to bridge those divides. In the politics of the future, with the regions becoming more demographically distinct, presidential campaigns will become ever more careful balancing acts.
Analysis of the 1990 to 1999 March Current Population Surveys and 1990 census data by William H. Frey.