Six Things You Need to Know About the 2016 Electorate

Research Reveals Significant Changes Over Years Past

A young Hispanic male voter reflects the shifting demographics of the U.S. electorate in 2016.
Blend Images/Getty Images

Despite the ongoing rampant media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, very little has been said about the electorate itself (except for how young people love Senator Bernie Sanders). Fortunately, Pew Research Center published a report in late January that details some important insights into demographic shifts in the U.S. electorate, which may even help predict how the election will turn out.

Here are six important takeaways from this report.

  1. This year's electorate is the most racially diverse in U.S. history. Reflecting major demographic shifts in the nation's population, about one in every three voters is Hispanic, Latino, Black, or Asian. White people are still the majority at 69 percent, but that majority share has fallen since 2012, and will only continue to decline. This is the case because the 10.7 million person growth in the electorate has mostly come from racial minorities, while simultaneously, many among the aging white population (elderly and middle age) have died.
  2. But while the electorate is at its most diverse yet, it is also at its most fiercely divided by party. The trend of dividing ourselves based on difference and self-selecting into like-minded groups has seemingly increased in recent decades, and is clear in how segregated our cities and neighborhoods are by race and class. The rise in sharp divisions by difference is also expressed in the greatest presidential approval rating gap in history. While 81 percent of Democrats approve of President Obama, just 14 percent of Republicans claim to. That's a 67 point gap, which has nearly tripled from 27 points when President Carter was in office.
  1. Those sharp divisions in opinion by party are present in large part because each party has become more extreme in their views: Republicans have shifted more to the right while Democrats have shifted more to the left. In 2014, 92 percent of Republicans were more conservative than the average Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats more liberal than the average Republican. This means that the ideological views of the membership among the two parties has very little overlap, which is a large shift from 10 years prior, when in 2004 the figures were both at about 70 percent.
  1. This division is likely influenced by the fact that the two parties today are especially divided by race and age. Members of the Republican party are older, more likely to be white, and more religious than members of the Democratic party. The more racially diverse, less religious, and more liberal Millennial generation are more likely to support Democratic candidates, even though they are also the most likely among all generations to identify as political independents.
  2. In fact, Millennials are the most liberal generation among the U.S. population. In 2012, 60 percent of the electorate aged 18-29 voted for President Obama.
  3. All of this points to one glaring fact: the 2016 electorate will be a very liberal one. Recent history shows that young voters--the Millennial generation--turn out in huge numbers for presidential elections, even though they are unlikely to vote in non-presidential cycles. That this year's electorate is the most racially diverse in history, and that the non-white population and the large population of Millennial voters tend to elect Democrats suggests a very left leaning electorate in 2016. The surprising surge of Senator Sanders, making him a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, is illustrative of this fact.