Here is something you don’t often read in stories about our changing demographics and their potential effect on our elections: There are more new voters to be found among white Americans than among minorities.
At least, that’s true in the short term. The under-18 population is less white than are the voting-age ranks. But the situation today is outlined in a new piece by the New York Times, with this summary:
“While young people, poor people and Hispanics are often singled out for low voting rates, there are millions of nonvoters in every demographic group. In fact, the majority of people who didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election were white, middle-income and middle-aged.”
Read that last bit again, for emphasis: “the majority of people who didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election were white, middle-income and middle-aged.” And just who would “white, middle-income and middle-aged” Americans be most likely to support in November, if we go by the opinion polls?
According to the Times’ piece, the number of white non-voters in 2012 surpassed 40 million, about half as many as the number of white voters four years ago. If all 40 million of them had turned out and voted the way other white voters did in 2012, then — all else being equal — Mitt Romney would have won the popular vote by more than 3 million instead of losing it by nearly 5 million. That kind of shift would have almost certainly swung the electoral vote, too.
Of course, it’s not guaranteed that all else would have been equal. Nor is it guaranteed that whites, whether they voted in 2012 or not, are drawn to Trump’s rhetoric in the same proportion that white voters were drawn to Romney. And if Trump is indeed banking on attracting many of those 40 million whites to the polls to vote for him, he also has to consider that some of the no-show minorities might turn out to vote against him (though it appears there were at least 10 million more white non-voters than non-white non-voters).
Still, it would be hard to write a more accurate description of Trump voters than that of the typical non-voter four years ago (Hillary Clinton’s deplorable attempt at labeling tens of millions of Americans as “Deplorables” notwithstanding). And that turns conventional wisdom about the path to victory this year, and perhaps even the next couple of elections, on its head.
More data from the Times’ piece also undercut the idea that non-white voter turnout has suffered in the age of voter ID laws.
No matter how the data are sliced — by education level, income or sex — African-Americans were more likely to turn out in 2012 than whites. What’s more, the gap was larger the further down the scale of income or education:
So it seems the greatest gains to be made are among whites of low or modest income and education. Which, again, fits right into Trump’s demographic target.
None of this changes the fact that Trump’s rhetoric could make it much harder for the GOP to win elections in the medium term, as the less-white, younger cohort of Americans becomes eligible to vote. But in the short term? It’s possible he knows what he’s doing.