With polls consistently showing President Obama facing even greater resistance from white voters than he did in 2008, he will likely need to maximize his advantage among minorities to win a second term in November.
In that effort, an analysis of recent Census Bureau data offers optimism for the White House. The data, analyzed by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, show that minorities are continuing to rise as a share of the eligible voter population — and they are making especially pronounced gains in some key swing states for 2012.
Obama's team faces challenges in registering and turning out those voters in a climate that features the combined headwinds of hard economic times and tough new voter-security laws signed by several Republican governors that Democrats see as unabashed efforts to suppress participation.
Some experts are especially worried about Hispanic turnout after the number of Latinos registered to vote fell unexpectedly between 2008 and 2010, probably because of widespread economic dislocation. Registration drives will increase those numbers in 2012, but starting from a lower base may mean a lower peak than once expected.
Yet, notwithstanding these potential barriers, the long-term trend is that the minority share of the electorate has grown in step with its rising share of the population eligible to vote. "This has been the logic of the past 20 to 25 years of American political history," says Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic voting analyst.
"The minority share of eligible voters should be even higher in November." — Demographer William Frey
In the data analyzed by Frey, the Census Bureau reported that as of January, whites constituted 71.3 percent of the eligible-voter population — that is, U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old. That percentage has been tumbling since 2000, when whites were 77.7 percent of all eligible voters. It dropped to 75.2 percent in 2004 and 73.4 percent in 2008 — a descent of about 2 percentage points every four years.