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America’s worst kept secret just came out.
It’s the census, mandated by the Constitution to be conducted every 10 years to set the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives each state gets. Its purpose is political, and the pundits are now having a fine time with it.
It’s a poorly kept secret because it has become easier to keep track of the population annually. This time, it confirmed some of what we already knew, but provided at least three results that caught new attention.
The country had previously recognized that the non-white population is growing faster than the white population. The clear message is that at some point in the next 20 to 30 years, the majority in the U.S. will be non-white.
The surprise this year was that, for the first time in U.S. history, there were fewer whites than at the last count, not merely a smaller percentage. A lower birth rate, an aging population and fewer European immigrants brought the change. The non-white American majority will develop sooner than expected.
Even Maine, while remaining the whitest state, is showing signs of change as its minority population has begun growing faster.
Race designations in the census result are the choice of each individual respondent. A surprise this year was sharp growth among people who classified themselves as being of mixed origins.
Intermarriage between people from different ethnic groups has become more common and more accepted. Though they may have called themselves Black, both former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris could have chosen the multiple race category.
The third fact revealing change is the movement of people out of rural America to metropolitan areas. Many big cities are growing, while small towns are declining. Cities have more diverse populations, while rural areas have been overwhelmingly white.
In Maine, without big cities, the major urban areas have gained while rural counties have either lost population or have experienced relatively small growth.
A widely accepted article of truth is that non-whites will predominantly be Democrats, while whites, especially those in rural America, are Republicans. That belief has led to the conclusion that the country will move toward the community-oriented politics of urban Democrats and away from rural GOP conservative individualists.
Whether that thesis is true remains to be seen. As non-whites gain increased prosperity, promised by the “American dream,” the question may be whether they change their politics as they expand their pocketbooks.
So why is a shift to the Democrats assumed? To a considerable degree, the answer may come from the Republican Party. At the moment, it is trying to construct political obstacles to minimize the effects of the inevitable change in the ethnic makeup of the population and block Democratic control.
The GOP tool is voter suppression. Where Republicans now control state governments, they are passing laws making election access more complicated. They see their traditional white supporters as being more likely to show up at the polling place than are newer, minority voters. Measures to ease voting, like longer voting periods or mail-in ballots, are being curtailed.
In addition, the GOP uses congressional and state legislative redistricting powers to draw specially designed districts that can produce the smallest number of Democratic legislators. Through such gerrymandering, they can prolong their control. That allows time to adopt laws and rules that may be difficult to topple if the Democrats gain control.
In short, the Republicans are attempting to extend their reach far into the future even as power may be slipping away from them. They seek to delay Democrats gaining political control even as the number of non-white voters increases.
Whether this policy makes sense could be questionable. It’s possible that some non-white voters are not natural Democrats, but resent GOP efforts to minimize their influence. In effect, the Republicans are inviting them to choose the Democrats.
Too much attention can be paid to what the census reveals. Two other key factors don’t show up in its count, and they both seem to help the Democrats.
The increased participation of African-Americans in the electoral process shows the Obama elections were not passing events. Two Georgia U.S. Senate races this year elected Democrats in what was a solidly GOP state, thanks to efforts to increase Black voting. In the face of voter suppression efforts there, the Democrats have to find ways to keep that happening.
The other change is the participation of women voters. The major news is that white women are no longer voting similarly to white men. Their participation has grown with their independence. The GOP has apparently ignored that change.
Political change is certainly coming. The census and related trends reveal that it may come sooner than expected.