The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that in 2012, for the first time in history, the percentage of voting African Americans outpaced the percentage of voting whites in the United States. In 2012, 66.2% of African Americans voted compared to 64.1% of whites.
This voting pattern is remarkable in that the increased African American vote took place in an environment where they had to wait in voting lines nearly twice as long as white voters. Some may say that African Americans voted in such high numbers because of the candidacy of our African American president. However, a close examination of voting records shows African American participation slowly edging up over the last several years.
As remarkable as this historic achievement is in its own right, the increases in African American voting is the tip of the iceberg with regard to demographic shifts that will forever change the face of U.S. politics. The Latino community voted in record numbers in 2012 as well and for the first time in history, comprised over 10% of the national electorate. And don't forget the fastest growing community of color in the United States -- the Asian American community. While Asians only make up 3% of the national vote, their numbers are growing proportionately faster than any other ethnic community in the country. Finally, the American Indian community makes up only 1% of the electorate but like other populations, voted in record numbers in 2012.
The voting trend increases in any of these populations is interesting, but taken together, their implications are nothing short of profound. You might expect that most African Americans voted for Obama... they did, at an unprecedented 93%. Would you also predict that Obama garnered 71% of the Latino vote, 73% of the Asian American vote or 75% of the American Indian vote?
For the first time in the history of our country, communities of color comprised over 27% of the national electorate and overwhelmingly voted for Democrats. For those keeping score, please note that these communities together make up some of the youngest, fastest growing populations in our country. They also happen to be located in important swing states including Florida, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado. The Center for American Progress reports that voters of color comprise 38.9% of Nevada's eligible voters, 34.5% of Florida's eligible voters, 27.4% of Virginia's eligible voters, and 22.4% of Colorado's eligible voters.
Under this new electoral reality, the amazing thing is not that issues like bipartisan immigration reform are being pursued realistically for the first time in decades but that there is still dissent amongst the Republican Party that it should be done at all. Republican Party realists have delivered the message that people don't vote for candidates that villainize them, but here's the problem: Republicans can't seem to get through bitter primaries without bashing communities of color and can't Etch-a-Sketch their way back to the center in general elections effectively enough to gain much support from communities of color with memories of being bashed in primaries.
Therein lies the rub. With data providing a clear roadmap that communities of color need to be considered and included favorably in political ideology, the Republican Party can't seem to execute. When New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, is seen as too moderate to invite to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), you know there is a crisis internal to the Republican Party. When Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, who was invited to CPAC, is slammed by congressional colleagues for being part of the Gang of Eight pushing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, the Republican political weather vane seems to be flapping in the wind.
If Mitt Romney was portrayed as out of touch with average Americans, perhaps he just wasn't keeping pace with who an average American really is. It is increasingly likely that the average American is a person of color who cares about economic opportunity but also equity and compassion on social issues.
Unless drastic reform occurs within the Republican Party, the changing demographics of the United States spells doom for their national candidates for years to come. On the other hand, if communities of color keep voting at record levels, policies like comprehensive immigration reform might actually be implemented.