There were two eye-catching items buried in the recent Census Bureau projection that America will no longer be a white man’s country in 2042:
One is that blacks also will fade in numbers — or, at least, their numbers won’t get much bigger. The other is that the number of Hispanics will soar; they will make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population in that year.
That means that not only will America not be a white majority country, it will almost certainly be a bilingual nation. In many cities, Spanish will as likely be heard on the streets, in schools and in workplaces as English. The seismic demographic revolution is already happening in many urban neighborhoods. There has been huge growth in Latino-owned businesses, media ownership and employment dominance in the retail and manufacturing industries. In the years to come, the economic shakeup will be colossal in entire areas of the country.
But the biggest shakeup will be in the political arena — the one place that can cause the greatest potential for angst for blacks.
In 2000, the 23 million blacks eligible to vote dwarfed the 13 million eligible Latino voters, even though Latinos had by then reached virtual parity with blacks in the population. More than one-third of the Latino population was less than 18 years old, and 40 percent of Latinos who were of eligible voting age were non-citizens, compared with only 5 percent of blacks.
Those numbers have radically changed. Since the 2000 election, the number of Latinos of voting age and who are citizens has jumped, and beyond mere eligibility, there are now an estimated 15 million Latino registered voters. That number compares far more favorably with the 15 million black voters in the 2004 election.
The surge in registered voters is not the only shift that has changed ethnic politics in America. In past elections, the majority of the Latino vote was concentrated in California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. In the 2008 national elections, helped by the sharp increase in the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the Midwest and Northeast states, the Latino vote will have national impact.
In the coming weeks, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain will likely dump millions into Spanish language ads, pitches and pleas for votes on Spanish language stations. When — not if — Democrats and Republicans cut an immigration reform deal, one of its features almost certainly will include some form of legalization plan that will turn thousands more Latino immigrants into ballot-casting American citizens within a few years. When that happens, Democrats and Republicans will likely pour even more time, money, and personnel into courting Latino voters.
The bottom line: The potential political gain from a massive outreach effort to Latinos is far greater than putting the same resources into courting black voters.
It’s sound political reasoning. That effort worked for Republicans in 2004, when President George W. Bush secured nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote. The Democrats, meanwhile, maintain a solid lock on the black vote. In every election since 1964, blacks have given more than 80 percent of their votes to the Democrats. They will give even more of their vote to Obama this election. With the tantalizing prospect of a small, but nonetheless important, segment of newly enfranchised Latino voters voting Republican, there’s no political incentive for Republicans to try to do more to get the black vote.
That even includes the party’s relentless pursuit of black evangelicals. Hispanic evangelical churches have an estimated 20 million members and those numbers are growing yearly. According to a survey by the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life project, the majority of Latino evangelicals are conservative, pro-family, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. Latino evangelicals are GOP-friendly and they have political clout. They got several mainstream evangelical groups to back the Senate compromise immigration reform bill. And while the National Association of Evangelicals stopped short of backing the Senate bill, it still urged “humane” immigration reform.
The leap in Latino voting strength, combined with the likely prospect that Democrats and Republicans can boost voting rolls with the rising number of legal and illegal immigrants, comes at a bad time for black politicians. Though the number of black elected officials has held steady in state offices and in Congress, the spectacular growth of prior years has flattened. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported after the 2004 elections only a marginal increase in the number of black elected officials. And that was mostly in a handful of Deep South states and Illinois.
There is some evidence that mainstream Democrats are already de-emphasizing traditional black issues. Obama and McCain have been virtually mute on miserably failing inner-city schools, soaring black unemployment, prison incarceration, and the HIV/AIDS crisis that has torn apart black communities.
The new population reality is that immigration, both legal and illegal, has drastically changed America’s ethnic and political landscape. Whites may be fading fast as the majority, but blacks could fade just as fast — in numbers and, more importantly, in political clout.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back.”