Voters Are Not As Diverse As People Who Live In America, Data Show

Oct 13, 2016
Originally published on October 13, 2016 9:08 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Twenty-six days from now, the final judgment in the presidential election comes from the American people. The focus this morning is very much on the candidates.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As we report elsewhere today, Republican Donald Trump is fending off new allegations that he grabbed or kissed multiple women without their consent. But beyond the fireworks of the campaign news, there is a changing nation.

MONTAGNE: Our series, A Nation Engaged, is asking what it means to be an American. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of politics and demographics. And she joined us in our studio.

Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: All right. So you - this is your job this year, actually, to figure out the demographic portrait of America in this important election year. Give us a snapshot.

KHALID: So, Renee, the country is changing. It's getting browner. You know, and what does that mean in an election year? Well, let's first break it down by race and ethnicity. About 62 percent of the U.S. population is considered white, not Hispanic. That's according to the latest Census Bureau figures. But the people who vote are not as diverse as the people who live in the country. And about 70 percent of voters this November are expected to be white folks.

KHALID: And beyond race and ethnicity, what else can you tell us about who we are demographically?

KHALID: Well, Renee, as a country we are more highly educated than we've ever been. You know, we've heard so much this election season about the large levels of support that Donald Trump has been garnering from white voters who do not have a college degree. But, Renee, what I think is interesting about this is that it's actually rather a reflection of a bygone era in the country, when these voters made up a much larger share of the electorate. So for example, if you look in 1980, about two-thirds of all voters were white working class. Compare that to 2012, the last presidential election, and only about a third of voters were white folks without a college degree.

MONTAGNE: And, Asma, this is a trend that's not going away.

KHALID: That's so true Renee. And if you look at census data, you'll see that the under-age-5 population in the country is already majority minority. That means if you're a white child in preschool, you could very likely be a minority. So, Renee, as we've been seeing the changes both racially and educationally, we're also seeing stratification politically. People are choosing to live in zip codes with like-minded people, which means that you're seeing extreme cultural, economic and political division. And you are seeing that in the election cycle and in the campaign season we've seen so far.

MONTAGNE: All right, then let's get back to the question at hand. If we are a country that's racially mixed, but also as you've said extremely divided in many ways, what does tie us together? What are you finding out there on the campaign trail that means I'm an American?

KHALID: Renee, that is such a tough question. You know, I've started to ask people though that very question out on the campaign trails just to hear what responses I get from folks. And a lot of times I'll hear about American values, the idea of freedom and rule of law. And some people tell me that it means economic freedoms, you know, for them that maybe means no regulation so they can grow their small business. Other people tell me it's about religious freedom, the idea that they can just practice their religion - whatever religion that is - freely.

But, Renee, it often feels like people are subscribing to the same ideas - right? - about values or a rule of law, but they're interpreting those ideas differently. And I think a lot of what we're hearing this election cycle are competing interpretations of what it means to be an American. I met this woman, Sue Bagley, in the suburbs of Cleveland this summer. She's supporting Donald Trump. And she was reminiscing to me about how glorious the old days in the 1950s were.

SUE BAGLEY: I'm proud to be an American. We've worked hard for this country. Any of us that are older know what it was like to be a kid in the '50s and the '60s and how fabulous it was. It's not like that anymore.

KHALID: But for many black and brown Americans, the 1950s was not such a pleasant time for political or personal freedoms. I heard a really interesting solemn reflection of what we're seeing in the country recently from a gentleman I met in North Carolina. His name is Ken Lewis. He's black, a Harvard-educated lawyer who told me he's going to be voting for Clinton. And he told me that part of the unrest this campaign season is because America in itself is an experiment.

KEN LEWIS: Yeah, we're trying to create an America, something that perhaps has never been done before. And that is to have a real democracy in a society that is pluralistic.

KHALID: And, Renee, that line has stuck with me, that, you know, we are trying to create a democracy - a real democracy in a society that is pluralistic. And that there is no model for how to do this.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Asma Khalid, who covers the intersection of demographics and politics. Thanks very much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.