The American electorate is changing. Voters have steadily grown older, more racially diverse, and more educated over the past 30 years. We have every reason to believe these changes will continue.
Demographics are not destiny, but these steady and predictable changes to the electorate play an important role in shaping the landscape of American elections. These shifts, which vary considerably state by state, will force parties and candidates to recalibrate their strategies for success going forward.
This report—a collaboration between PRRI, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, and the Bipartisan Policy Center—explores how these demographic changes could shape the next five presidential elections (2020 to 2036), using national and state-level demographic projections and a variety of assumptions about how voters might act in future. These scenarios are not intended as predictions, but as simulations that help us think about the future. Each alternative scenario assumes the same projections for the nation’s demographic composition of eligible voters with respect to race, age, and educational attainment.
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The report explores a wide variety of scenarios. Here are a few key findings:
- Demographic changes over the next 18 years will likely favor the Democratic Party in presidential elections. In particular, the decline of white, non-college voters combined with the rise of other groups—including blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and college-educated whites—creates an electoral headwind for the Republican Party under most scenarios.
- A hallmark of the 2016 election was the divide between the popular vote and the Electoral College. Even as the country changes, there are a number of possible futures where this split persists—allowing for wins by the Republican Party even as they lose the popular vote.
- Even if Americans vote the same way they did in the last presidential election, demographic changes between 2016 and 2020 are large enough to result in a Democratic win in 2020. However, if third-party support levels return to their typical levels, the Republican Party will win the Electoral College by a single point in 2020.
- Between 2012 and 2016, black turnout declined and black voters shifted slightly toward the Republican Party. If black turnout and support move back to 2012 levels, this will result in a Democratic win in 2020.
- If the Republican Party can increase its support levels among Hispanics, Asians, and other racial groups, they can win the presidency in 2020, even as they lose the popular vote. Nevertheless, even with pro-Republican swing, demographic changes will result in a Democratic win by 2032.
- Despite the large demographic changes taking place, the Republican Party can win the Electoral College through 2036 if they increase their support levels among white, non-college voters. However, if these gains among white, non-college voters are offset by losses among other groups, this coalition produces electoral losses for the Republican Party by the mid-to-late 2020s.
The demographic changes taking place across the country will be one of the defining features of the 21st century—impacting everything from national politics to local community life. Understanding these trends is vital to meeting tomorrow’s challenges.