Study: Young People of Color Have Political Power

In the days since the election, there has been a renewed attention on our country’s changing demographics, given the overwhelming Obama/Democratic successes among voters of color. The increased margin of support for Democrats among Latino voters was significant enough to cause some GOP leaders to choke on their pretzels, and now it appears that a bi-partisan discussion of immigration reform is once again (thankfully) underway.

A report (pdf) issued last week by the Black Youth Project digs into several findings on the changing racial composition of our country’s electorate, and brings a particular focus to the key role of young people of color in Obama’s re-election.

As anyone who volunteered for the Obama campaign during this election could tell you, youth of color were an important element (along with women & union members) of the Democrats’ highly-energetic ground game. The study, however, focuses on their growing significance as a voting bloc — noting that the share of young voters of color in the overall electorate has continuing to grow over the last three Presidential elections. For the Democrats, it helped to make up for a fact that I found surprising: among white voters under 30, Obama actually lost to Romney.

That’s right — while 54% of young white voters supported Obama in 2008, according to exit polls only 44% voted for Obama in 2012.  Of course, some of us graduated from the U-30 bracket in the intervening years, but that’s more of a discussion between me and my retreating hairline — and it doesn’t explain the turn towards Romney among those who “replaced” us in this demographic group. (This shift merits further analysis, to be sure.)

Here are a few other highlights from the report (the emphasis is mine):

Blacks and Latinos comprised an increasingly larger share of the voting electorate in each of the last three presidential elections. In 2012, young people under 30 years of age accounted for nearly 20 percent of the voting electorate, and Blacks and Latinos made up almost half of young voters. [...]

People of color—and Blacks and Latinos specifically—comprise increasingly large portions of the voting electorate. Not only are people of color gaining numbers in the population (especially Latinos), but voter turnout among these groups is also increasing relative to whites…Since 2004, the proportion of white voters has decreased from 78 percent to 72 percent, while the proportion of Black and Latino voters has increased from 18 percent to 23 percent. [...]

Overall, 60 percent of youth supported President Obama in the 2012 election, down slightly from 66 percent in 2008—but considerably greater than the 54 percent of the vote that youth provided John Kerry in the 2004 election. However, contrary to the idea of a monolithic youth vote, there is considerable variation by racial group among young people in whom they support for president [and] these differences have increased in recent presidential elections. [...Because] of the increased percentages of young people of color that are voting, these populations have played an increasingly important role in selecting the nation’s president, and will continue to do so.

The Center for American Progress has a longer (pre-election) discussion of what I think is the bottom line here: any party or candidate that wishes to remain relevant to American politics must have a platform and program that speaks (and listens) to the concerns of young people as a whole, and young people of color in particular — or else be relegated to that proverbial dustbin of history.

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Virginian by birth, Rhode Islander by choice. Organizer at SEIU District 1199NE, homebrewer of beer, and haphazard gardener. The views expressed here are my own, especially the snarky ones. T: @chasbwalker

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