The Color of the Young Vote, 2008

In the previous blog entry, we mentioned that Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressed his desire to see more people of color represented within the Republican Party. Steele made this statement at a meeting of Florida Republicans. At the same meeting, Jim Greer, Florida’s party chairman, said that the party would focus on using technology to invigorate younger Republicans.

The folowing charts help to explain why Republicans might be concerned about ethnic and age diversity within their party. These are from the Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election Fact Sheet, which was prepared by CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

This first chart is not elegant aesthetically, but it makes a powerful point about the ethnic make-up of voters in the November elections. The chart shows the ethnicity of the electorate, broken-out by different age groups.

Source: Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election Fact Sheet

I know this is redundant, but let me go over the numbers on the above chart:
• For voters who are 60 years old or more, the ethnic composition of the vote was 85% white, 8% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 45-59, the ethnicity was 80% white, 12% black, and 4% Hispanic
• For voters aged 30-44, the ethnicity was 72% white, 15% black, and 7% Hispanic
• For voters aged 18-29, the ethnicity was 64% white, 19% black, and 11% Hispanic

What we’re seeing is that the under-30 population has become more ethnically diverse than older age groups. Whites are a smaller portion of the electorate, while the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics is growing.

The problem for Republicans is that African Americans and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The following chart shows the percentage of people who voted for Obama in the November elections, by ethnicity and age-group:

Source: Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election Fact Sheet

As the chart shows, Obama got overwhelming support from African Americans of all groups. And while Obama got strong support from Hispanics as well, young Hispanics (aged 18-29) were his biggest backers, giving him 76% of their vote.

Of interest is that among whites, 54% of voters aged 18-29 chose Obama; that is the only white age group that gave Obama more than half their votes.

If these trends were to continue (and that is a big if), it would mean that Democrats are well positioned for electoral gains in the future. History has shown, though, that these trends in voting support can be impermanent. Young voters were definitely among Barack Obama’s most impassioned supporters, but if he were to have a troubled presidency – such as the one George Bush had – Obama’s standing would fall, and the Democrat’s standing would fall along with his.

But right now, the future is unquestionably brighter on the Democratic side than the Republican side.

Just as we are sifting through these numbers, so are Republicans. Michael Steele’s call for more diversity within the Republican Party is a good one. But it remains to be seen how he and the party will accomplish that goal.

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