RELEASE: Fourth Annual States of Change Report Examines Shifting U.S. Demographics and the Future of the Trump and Obama Coalitions in Presidential Elections

Washington, D.C. — A new report jointly authored by the Center for American Progress, Brookings Institution, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) explores national and state demographic changes in the United States; future turnout and voter preference patterns; and electoral simulations that reflect how these changes could shape the next five presidential elections between 2020 and 2036.

“Demographics in the United States are shifting quickly, and both major political parties must adapt sooner rather than later to the changing electorate. An increasingly diverse but aging electorate holds promise and pitfalls for the Democratic Party and Republican Party alike,” said Ruy Teixiera, senior fellow at CAP and co-author of the report. “As the 2016 election showed, long-held beliefs about turnout and voter preferences may no longer be as reliable as they once were.”

The joint report finds that there are paths for both parties to win the Electoral College in 2020 and beyond. Key findings from the analysis include:

  • A scenario that attributes the voting patterns of all groups from Obama’s 2012 win to future more racially diverse populations, yields solid Democratic popular vote and Electoral College wins from 2020 through 2036. Changing demography also has a clear impact on future outcomes when Trump’s 2016 voting patterns are attributed to the 2020 population. Here the modest shift toward more racially diverse voting populations in several states is enough to provide Democratic wins in both the popular vote and Electoral College not only in 2020 but in subsequent elections. However, the 2016 election result was unusual because of a high level of third-party voters. When those extra third-party voters are allocated back to one of the two major parties, based on underlying partisan preferences, projections to 2020 show a dead heat in the Electoral College.
  • The turnout of communities of color will continue to play a major deciding role in presidential elections. A scenario that assumes that all racial groups turn out at the same rate improves the voting clout of racial minorities, especially Hispanics and Asians. A pro-GOP margin swing of 15 points among Hispanics, Asians, and other nonblack racial minorities, however, could result in Republican Electoral College—though not popular vote—wins.
  • White college graduate versus white noncollege-educated voting preferences will also play a major deciding role in presidential elections. The greatest opportunity for Republicans to extend their 2016 victory model assumes an expansion of the already-substantial voting margin that the GOP has gained among white noncollege-educated voters. When this margin is expanded by 10 points, Republicans win both the 2020 Electoral College and popular vote. They continue to win the Electoral College, though not the popular vote, through 2036, despite broadening diversity and other predicted changes across the country.
  • The major political parties may have to confront voter group trade-offs. An increased Republican margin of 15 points among Hispanics, Asians, and other nonblack minority groups, perhaps due to increased outreach efforts, might trigger a swing toward greater Democratic support-back to relatively good 2012 levels-among noncollege-educated whites. In such a scenario, the Republicans lose both the popular and electoral vote in 2020. However, in a scenario where increased Republican success among white noncollege-educated voters is traded for increased Democratic success among white college graduates, the GOP does gain an Electoral College victory in 2020, even while losing the popular vote.
  • Differing strategies for Republican Party and Democratic Party electoral success. For Republicans, future success is tied to mobilizing their strength among whites without college educations—a still-substantial but shrinking portion of the electorate—while attaining gains among at least some growing demographic groups. A narrow Republican reliance on noncollege-educated whites would lead, at best, to continued popular vote losses and ever smaller Electoral College wins, which would eventually peter out. While Democrats appear to have the advantage in future popular vote contests, their success in the Electoral College will likely require some combination of intensifying their support among voters of color and improving their margins among white, particularly white noncollege-educated, voters. This delicate balancing act will provide a challenge for the party that cannot be met by simply waiting for demographic change to reshape the electorate.

For four years in a row, CAP, Brookings, BPC, and PRRI have collaborated on States of Change, a demographics and democracy project. The goals of the project are to document and analyze the challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution from the 1970s to 2060; to project the race-ethnic composition of every state to 2060, which has not been done in more than 20 years; and to promote a wide-ranging and bipartisan discussion of America’s demographic future and what it portends for the nation’s political parties and public policy.

Click here to read “America’s Electoral Future: Demographic Shifts and the Future of the Trump Coalition” by Robert Griffin, Ruy Teixeira, and William H. Frey.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202-478-6331.