Broadly, demographics study the characteristic makeup of a specific population. Government and corporations use demographics to learn about factors including race, sex, economic level, political leaning, etc. for a selected population. These demographics are then used to determine the group’s needs. For instance, a marketing firm will use demographics to understand how to appeal to a certain customer. Demographics are constantly changing, and in terms of politics, a change in demographics can lead to drastically different voting patterns.
Unlike non-governmental corporations, political organizations use demographics to sell a person or group rather than a product. Regardless of Republican, Democrat or other affiliations, political groups need demographics to understand how to appeal to national, state and local voting blocs.
Influence on Presidential Elections
Demographics are most commonly discussed during the run-up to presidential elections. Political pundits predict election results based on how candidates appeal to demographically divided electoral bases in primaries and general elections. In the lead-up to Barack Obama’s run for presidential office in 2008, the African-American and youth vote were the most often discussed demographic bases. It was widely expected that Obama and the Democrats were going to carry these demographics as long as they voted on Election Day.
With the Democratic campaign urging its two most powerful demographics to vote, the youth vote increased by 9 percent to 2004 and the African-American vote increased by 21 percent, helping Obama win the election. Discussions concerning the demographics most likely to experience large changes in the 2016 presidential election are already underway. (For more, see: How Big Data Has Changed Finance.)
Most Influential Demographics Changes Expected in 2016
The first demographic most commonly mentioned is the emerging minority vote. Per the Pew Research Center, the United States is on track to be a majority non-white country by the 2040s. As whites begin to decrease in population percentage—down to approximately 60 percent in 2020—another race-based demographic has to increase.
Based on all demographic research, Hispanics will be that segment of the population. In 2012, Hispanics made up 17 percent of the entire U.S. population, but this number will almost double to 31 percent in the coming half-century. There are two main reasons for this increase in population. Immigration laws have recently loosened in the U.S., resulting in an influx of migratory Hispanics, and there will be a birthing boom from the Hispanic immigrants who originally came in the 1990s.
The aging population is the second demographic most often discussed in the 2016 election. As of 2010, only 13 percent of all U.S. citizens were aged 65 and older. However, this figure will grow to 18 percent by 2030. This group will be extremely influential in the coming years, beginning with the 2016 election, because as people age, they are more likely to vote. In the 2012 presidential election, only 24 percent of 18-29 year olds voted compared to 51 percent of all Americans over the age of 30.
While the minority and aging demographic are the two most widely discussed and influential changing demographics, there are other groups that may also have an impact. (For more, see: Critical Economic Issues For Elections.)
Additional Demographics Influencing Elections
The female gender gap in voting has followed the same trend pattern since 2006. Over the last nine years, the likelihood that a woman will place her ballot for a Republican candidate versus a Democrat has continually decreased. In 2006, women were four percentage points less likely to vote for a Republican versus ten percentage points less likely in the 2014 midterm elections.
Supporters of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and same-sex marriage are another influential demographic, and their size and strength has grown in the past decade. As more and more people back LGBT rights, political parties will have to make strategic appeals to this demographic. In 2003, 47 percent of the American population supported equal rights for LGBT people compared to 57 percent in 2013. This number is only expected to grow as millennials, who show far more support than previous generations, become a larger proportion of the population.
College-educated voters are the final example of a growing demographic. From 1984 to 2008, the percentage of the college-educated electorate grew from 35 percent to 45 percent. These college-educated voters are only going to increase in population percentage as the number of Americans with a college degree continues to rise.
Political Advantages in Changing Demographics
In the 2016 election, the demographic changes expected in this country will go a long way in determining the next president. Predicting who will carry the largest rising demographics is simple, but determining how all the demographics will balance out is more complicated.
The emerging minority vote is strongly predicted to support a Democratic candidate. In the 2012 election, Democrats acquired 78 percent of the minority vote. If Democrats continue to appeal to minorities at this rate, then the growing minority demographic will heavily support the election of a Democratic candidate.
In much the same way that Democrats have a positive relationship with minority demographics, Republicans one with the aging demographic. In 2012, 56 percent of voters aged 65 and older voted Republican, and in the 2014 midterm elections, 57 percent supported the GOP.
With the two largest growing demographics seemingly spoken for in the 2016 election, the election winner will largely be determined by which demographic change is more powerful: growing minority or aging populace. The 2016 presidential election and future election cycles may tilt on whether minority growth outweighs the increased likelihood that those 65 and over actually cast ballots. (For more, see: The Market And Presidential Promises.)
The Bottom Line
Demographics—and a political party’s ability to appeal to these groups—have shaped political elections in the past and will continue in this manner. For 2016, in particular, the demographics most likely to alter the election are the growing minority and aging baby-boomer voters. The political party most successful in drawing strength from their politically aligned demographic will be most successful in the election.