The U.S. Census Bureau just released its report on voter turnout in America's 2012 presidential elections. For the first time, the percentage of eligible blacks who voted surpassed that of eligible whites. Meanwhile, explosive growth in the country's Asian and Hispanic populations continues to mean that those who go to the polls are increasingly nonwhite.
The turnout story is not just about Barack Obama running for president. In 1996, when the government began to collect this kind of data, whites outvoted blacks by eight percentage points. Black turnout has increased in every election since then.
The turnout rates for Hispanics and Asians -- both just shy of 50 percent -- continue to lag far behind the other two groups, with much smaller gains over the years. And yet their share of the voting public almost doubled over that same span of sixteen years, even as the white share of voters dropped nine percentage points, to 74 percent.
Whites and blacks have given a fairly consistent percentage of their votes to each party in the last four elections, with the Republicans getting just under 3/5 of the white vote, and Democrats getting about 9/10 of the black vote (only slightly higher with Obama on the ballot). The white vote for Democrats was lower in the South than any other region in the past three elections, and lowest in the deepest Southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama). Hispanic and Asian voters have moved significantly toward Democrats between 2004 and 2012. The Asian Democratic vote jumped 17 points, up to 73 percent in 2012, while the Hispanic Democratic vote jumped 18 points, up to 71 percent in 2012.
It does not bode well for the GOP that its voters were almost 90 percent white in 2012. If America's minority voters continue to turn out for Democrats, and their share of the population continues to grow as rapidly as projected, it will become ever harder for Republicans to win the White House.
I am a progressive, but I don't celebrate these trends. For the sake of this country's multi-ethnic democracy, I want Republicans to do better among nonwhite voters. A society where ethnicity defines the political parties is doomed to disaster. The political process becomes a zero-sum game where each ethnic group fights for its share of the pie. Any commitment to a broader common good is lost, as is any sense that citizens of different backgrounds can come together and feel a strong patriotic bond.
My hope is that the GOP's leaders read these numbers and adopt both a tone and policy stances that unite rather than divide. Too many on the right -- from Rush Limbaugh to Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin -- have sought to gin up white anxiety over demographic changes, to motivate white voters by fear.
Giving up this losing strategy is the best way to win over the growing ranks of minority voters. We'll see in the coming months whether that happens. The impending vote over immigration reform will be a crucial test. But for the health of their party -- and the health of our country -- they need to make sure that it does.