There is a lot of talk about demographic shift in the U.S. and the ways that it will influence the election in 2016 and those to come. Such characteristics as youth and ethnicity are indeed changing, but demographic impacts are far more complex than is often assumed. Many of the political claims about coming advantages for one side or the other are largely ill-informed and speculative. Let’s see why.
Although our presidential election is based upon the states, a finer sieve by counties gives more information and is particularly relevant to the House of Representatives elections. Here’s how the 2012 election turned out.
Note the many darkly colored counties, i.e. those that went heavily Democratic or Republican. Demographic shifts in those counties will take many years and perhaps decades to occur, if at all. Don’t expect near-term change in the great plains states or Texas. Also note how the colors seem to cluster. Nearby counties affect one another through assimilation and immigration. It is difficult for the opposite party to penetrate these clusters unless very special conditions arise, such as a home-town candidate of that party.
What about the next generation? Our youth are not uniformly distributed, as the following county-level map clearly shows.
The south-western and southern states, with the important exception of Florida, have proportionately greater populations under the age of 18 than the north-eastern, mid-Atlantic and northern tier states. There is dispute about the political tendencies of the next generation but little doubt that they hold many different views from their elders, particularly on social issues. It is obvious that the impact of youth, one way or the other, should hit hardest in Republican-leaning areas. Of course mobility is higher among the young, so the finer detail on this map may change quite a bit in the years to come.
Yet another perspective is ethnic ancestry. I can’t recall reading any analysis of how this important population characteristic correlates with political views. The following map is fascinating. Note the distribution of British ancestry. The northeast concentration is unsurprising, but the major enclaves in Florida, the north-west, and particularly Mormon country is not exactly what I expected. Comparing this to the election map indicates little correlation to political viewpoint.
On the other hand, the swath of those claiming American ancestry across West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, down into central Texas clearly leans Republican. I am assuming that these people trace their forebears back at least before the Civil War and perhaps to Revolutionary times. The segment with German ancestry is much larger than I had expected, larger even than those with Mexican or Spanish heritage. With the notable exception of Wisconsin, these seem to lean Republican, and increasingly so as you move west.
Yet another sociological slice is the distribution of our poor. They tend to vote far less often than the more affluent, so their political impact relates more to their congregation than to their voting predilections. The presence of many poor individuals affects how their neighbors vote, whether to offer them a helping hand or to try to minimize their impact on the community. To the first approximation, those two alternatives fairly well capture the Democratic and Republican attitudes towards the poor.
The concentrations in the mid-south and along our southern border are what we might expect, however the relative sparsity in major urban areas is surprising.
These are but a few of the alternative ways of looking at our population. Demography provides a confusing perspective but it is one that politicians will ignore at their peril in the coming years.