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Demographic change is one of the most salient shifts in American politics. A country that was once overwhelmingly white is now becoming more diverse. According to 2020 Census data, 58% of Americans identify as white, down from roughly 80% in 1980. Growing Black, Latino, Asian, and biracial populations are becoming more prominent both politically and culturally. Non-white groups are more likely to favor Democrats. They are also more likely to live in cities and suburbs. On the other hand, white Republicans are increasingly likely to live in rural areas. So what does all of this mean for American politics?

Since 1992, Democrats have lost the popular vote in a Presidential race just once, in 2004.

Recent demographic trends have helped Democrats dominate the popular vote in general elections. Since 1992, Democrats have lost the popular vote in a Presidential race just once, in 2004. This is in part because the white share of the population, which votes Republican at higher rates than other demographic groups, continues to fall. However, popular vote victories don’t necessarily translate to Electoral College wins. Democrats lost in 2000 and 2016 despite winning the popular vote. Because their voters are clustered in cities, the Democratic Party has a less efficient route in the Electoral College. 

The bias towards small, rural states is perhaps most present in the Senate. Republicans tend to dominate in rural states, and each state gets two Senators regardless of its size. This allows Republicans to have outsized political power even though they represent a smaller number of people in absolute and relative terms. Republicans generally use this power in the Senate to filibuster legislation that would promote inclusion

Despite Republicans being likely to maintain a strong presence in the Senate, the country continues to shift culturally to the left. Secularism has dramatically increased over the past few decades, along with higher levels of education. Entertainment and corporations have also shifted to the left. Corporations took on visible commitments to diversity and inclusion after the George Floyd protests of 2020. This cultural shift is a consequence of a country that is quickly becoming more diverse and that desires new, progressive views on race, gender, and education. 

But demographic change is also changing things in the Republican Party. There is a long history of demographic change evoking fear in conservative parties. This can lead to higher levels of political extremism, calls for authoritarianism, and increased religious faith. Going forward, the U.S. will likely need to increase its efforts at protecting political norms and institutions. 

Demographic change has shifted the country leftward culturally and increased Democrats’ political power relative to the 1970s and 1980s. But it has also hardened Republican attitudes on race and immigration and shifted their party away from the center. Less than half of U.S. children under the age of 15 are white, so these trends are expected to continue and intensify in the future. 

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.

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