In the nearly two decades between 2000 and 2018, more than 100 counties across the United States saw their white population slip under 50%, according to a Pew analysis of census information, the latest in a series of data points that make clear the country’s demographics (and, eventually, its politics) are in a period of considerable change.
With the addition of the 109 counties that turned from majority white to majority non-white over the last 18 years, there are now 293 non-white majority counties in the United States. While that accounts for only 9% of the total counties in the United States, it’s the change over time that is most interesting – and where it’s happening.
Two facts stand out in that regard:
1) While 109 counties went from majority white to majority non-white over the past 18 years, just two – yes, TWO – went from majority non-white to majority white. (They were Calhoun County in South Carolina and West Feliciana Parish in Louisiana.)
2) Some of the largest counties in the country are changing the fastest. As Pew concludes: “In 21 of the 25 biggest U.S. counties by population, nonwhite groups together make up more than half of residents. Eight of these counties were majority white in 2000 but are no longer: San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Sacramento (all in California), plus Clark (Nevada), Broward (Florida), Tarrant (Texas) and Wayne (Michigan).” And there are a handful of other huge counties (Fairfax in Virginia, Pima in Arizona, Milwaukee in Wisconsin) where the white population has sunk under 52% – and could well go majority non-white in the next few years.
The pattern is clear. Big counties with lots and lots of people in them – largely clustered in the south, southwest and west – are rapidly being transformed from white-dominant populations to places where Hispanic, black and Asian faces make up the majority of residents.
What does this mean for politics? Well, a lot.
While President Donald Trump’s 2016 election proved that predictions of demographic doom for Republicans were premature, it also highlighted the increasingly white nature of the GOP coalition. Whites made up 71% of all voters in 2016 – their lowest percentage ever – and Trump won that group by 20 points. He lost black voters (12% of the electorate) by 81 points. He lost Hispanics (11% of electorate) by 38 points. He lost Asians (4% of electorate) by 38 points.
The trends are clear. The country isn’t getting any whiter. And the Republican coalition is growingly increasingly dependent on that shrinking white vote. (George W. Bush took 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.)
“America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.” Know when that sentence was written – and by who? It was in the wake of the 2012 election by a group of Republicans tasked by the Republican National Committee with conducting an autopsy of the party’s losses.
They were right then. The Pew numbers suggest they are even more right now.
The Point: Demographics are destiny. The 2016 election didn’t alter Republicans’ mounting demographic problems, it just put them off. And Trump’s presidency may well be worsening them.