Despite popular opinion and the rhetoric of equality, the American electorate is highly divided along lines of race and gender. This makes it relatively easy to make accurate election predictions.
Examining this data and what it means can give us a relatively high degree of accuracy when forecasting election results by applying elements of probability to electoral trends.
One of the fastest growing election-day trends is exit polling. This is where voters are surveyed as they leave the polling place as to how they voted. Demographic factors such as ethnicity, age, annual income and highest level of education are also recorded. Although Gallup has undertaken exit polling since 1952, exit polls have only really been widely engaged around the world since 2000.
An examination of exit poll data undertaken by The New York Times over the past three presidential elections presents a very interesting picture of the American electorate.
Democrats consistently win the women’s vote, with an average margin of 53-47%. This demographic is extremely important, as women currently comprise 53% of the electorate.
The Republican Party tried to bridge this gender divide in 2008 by nominating then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin for vice-president. Ironically, Palin’s much-panned candidacy actually resulted in a decline in the Republican female vote, from 48% in 2004 to 43% in 2008, rising slightly in 2012 to 44%.
As a consequence, the party spent much of the past four years assuring the electorate it was supportive for women. This is one of the key demographics into which it must make positive inroads if it is to have any chance at winning future presidential elections.
It is yet to be seen how much damage Donald Trump has done to the party’s attempts in this regard.
Putting gender aside, what role does race and ethnicity play in US elections?
Of the four major ethnicities in the United States – Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and Asian – only one (Caucasian) votes majority Republican, with all others consistently voting Democrat in significant majorities.
The average Democratic vote percentage for each of the four ethnic groups is Caucasian 41%, African-American 92%, Hispanic 64%, and Asian 64%.
The problem for the Republican Party is that as a proportion of total population, the number of Caucasians is declining, while the fastest-growing ethnic group, Hispanics, vote Democrat two-thirds of the time.
Just how is the shift in ethnic voting affecting election outcomes?
The Pew Research Centre identified that as the Caucasian population decreases as a proportion of a state’s population, then that state trends favourably to the Democratic Party.
Prior to the 1992 presidential election, California, the home state of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, was “safe” Republican, but the party is no longer competitive there. Democrats currently hold every statewide office, both houses of the state legislature, and 74% of the state’s seats in Congress.
Since 1992, California has consistently voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. In 2016, Trump has spent little time campaigning in California, as there is no value in spending millions of dollars in a state he has no chance of winning.
The reason for this political shift is the rapid rise in California’s Hispanic population. In 2014, California became only the second state in the country (after New Mexico) where Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group.
New Mexico and Nevada
In many ways, New Mexico mirrors California in that, prior to 1992, its voters supported Republican presidential candidates. Since then, the Democrats have won five of the past six elections.
The past two presidential elections also saw a growth in Hispanic voters in other states, such as Nevada. Nevada was long a “safe” Republican state, but has since voted Democrat in four of the past six presidential elections.
Between 1968 and 2004, Virginia never voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. Since 2008, though, it has voted consistently Democrat. But this political shift is not due to the Hispanic vote.
The District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) is the most Democratic region in the country. In 2012, Barack Obama won D.C.’s three Electoral College votes with 91% of the vote. One of the major factors for this is that African-Americans comprise almost 50% of the population, with African-American voters supporting Democratic presidential candidates at a rate of 92%.
Between 2010 and 2014, D.C.’s population grew at a rate of 9.5%, which is more than three times the national growth rate. This growth is seeing large numbers of D.C. residents move to the northern suburbs of neighbouring Virginia. A
lthough the southern part of the state is still reliably Republican, the net result is that Virginia has swung to the Democrats favour.
What all this suggests is that despite political spin and media commentary, there are actually few surprises in US electoral politics, and even fewer in presidential politics.
Despite the positive rhetoric, America is a nation politically divided by gender and ethnicity.
Look to America’s political history to find a path to its future.