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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

How the U.S. voters changed their stripes Add to ...

A memo to Republicans: Try getting to know the American voter.

Sure, back in the glory days of Morning in America, the ballot-booth sweetheart was a white male – possibly a good working-class chap from a swing state. But as President Barack Obama’s win this week made plain, there’s a new electorate – and it looks very different. Latinos made up 10 per cent of the vote. Blacks made up 13 per cent. Asians 3 per cent. Women (of all ethnicities) 53 per cent. And rich doesn’t necessarily mean conservative.

The change has been gradual, but its impact has been dramatic, with Democrats capturing all the growth, and Republicans confined to a shrinking piece of the pie.

Consider, for instance, Colorado. The state was reliably red in former presidential races, but has now twice backed Mr. Obama. To understand that shift, look at those exit polls – 14 per cent of the state’s voters were Latino, and three-quarters of them backed the President. It was enough to clinch the state, and the race.

You can certainly forgive Latino Democrats here a bit of a gloating. “We stopped Romney in his tracks,” said Mannie Rodriguez, the jubilant 64-year-old chairman of the Democrats’ Latino initiative in Colorado, where the Latino population has risen 45 per cent in a decade. “The message is you’d better get out there and get the Latino vote if you want to win.” Indeed, only one segment went to Republican Mitt Romney: He drew 62 per cent of white men and 56 per cent of white women.

Whites accounted for just 72 per cent of the vote, according to CNN exit polls. Compare that with 88 per cent in 1980, when Ronald Reagan swept aside Jimmy Carter (and men were also still a majority, at 51 per cent).

Since then, things have changed, gradually: By 1992, when Bill Clinton came to power, women had risen to 53 per cent of the electorate, as they are today, and favoured the Democrats, as did black voters, who made up 8 per cent, while Latinos were only 2 per cent. By 2000, when George W. Bush won the presidency but lost the popular vote, Latinos had jumped to 7 per cent, and were leaning hard to the Democrats.

Mr. Obama has capitalized on these trends in key swing states – Ohio and Florida, as well as Colorado – leaving Republicans to do some serious soul-searching.

Or, as Colorado political scientist Tom Cronin puts it: “You can’t just have a party of angry white men.”

In many ways, Prof. Cronin’s state illustrates the shifting sands best: It is growing, heavily urban, rich, well-educated, increasingly diverse and ever more progressive. Voters here legalized marijuana on Tuesday and, two days later, the Colorado House of Representatives appointed its first gay speaker.

And as Mr. Rodriguez was celebrating, Prof. Cronin and two colleagues gathered in conservative Colorado Springs, an hour south of Denver, to entertain a delegation of government officials from five Asian countries – and share some head-scratching.

The guests were bleary-eyed from the election marathon the night before. But their first question was still this one: What’s happening to the demographics of American politics?

Bob Loevy, a long-time Colorado College professor, is a dwindling breed of Republican – his great-great-grandfather was a roommate of Abraham Lincoln, glory days now far gone by.

He was despondent (“Of course, it’s a grim morning for me”) and told the room that a major realignment is taking place. It’s a factor of gender and race, but also of the rich, another growing arm of the Obama coalition, both in Colorado and across the nation.

“The wealthiest counties in Colorado have simply shifted from Republican to Democrat,” he explained. Hard-line Republican stances, and Tea Party influences, are “driving the well-educated classes out,” and this, more than anything, threatens the Republican model by taking suburban counties out of the party’s hands.

If all this continues, the Republicans “will become even more of a regional party, not a national party.”

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