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02/22/2016 06:54 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2016

Author Steve Phillips Explains Why Minority Voters Can No Longer Be An 'Afterthought'

Voters of color are as important as ever.

With demographics continuing to change in the United States, brown is becoming "the new white" -- and it's a political reality with which presidential candidates will have to grapple during this election cycle.

Political activist Steve Phillips, who raises the issue in his book Brown Is The New White, joined HuffPost Live to discuss how the growing non-white population will impact the 2016 race. Phillips said that progressive candidates will have to prioritize minority voters if they want to be voted into office.

"The starting point for progressive politics needs to begin with people of color, who have grown from 12 percent of the population to now [roughly] 38 percent of the population," he said. "And so [whereas] historically, communities of color have been seen as an afterthought in politics, if you want to build an effective, winning coalition, they have to be the first thought now."

Rhetoric directed at minority voters appears to have ramped up recently as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders court voters of color in new locales like South Carolina. Phillips believes their tone is "sincere," but he noted that historically, the "tyranny of the white swing voter" has prevented political candidates from reaching out to their minority counterparts:

Historically people have been afraid of how will that sector react and will you alienate them so you can only be so bold or so aggressive. So even Sanders, who can call for socialism, backs away from reparations for African Americans out of his fear around how that is going to resonate. Clinton has been very good on immigration issues, but she won't call for protection of the children at the border, again out of fear of how that will resonate with those white swing voters.

Phillips urged a change in that mindset going into 2016. As he put it, minority voters are the ones that deserve more attention. Case in point? President Obama's 2012 victory.

That year, Romney won the majority of the white vote, but it wasn't enough to win the election. Black voters turned out in record numbers and, according to CNN exit polls, 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asians helped propel Obama to the White House once more.

"That marked the tipping point, the turning point, within U.S. politics. Particularly the re-election, where Obama got 5 million fewer white votes than he got in 2008, and was still able to get elected," he said. "So that was the maturation, the arrival of this new American majority."

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation with Steve Phillips here

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