THE STUDY SEPTEMBER 1, 2011
A new analysis of the 2010 Census shows that over the last ten years, eight major metropolitan areas around the U.S.—including D.C., New York, and San Diego—have become majority-minority. Now, researchers are waiting to see what comes next: Shifts in demographic compositions are likely to have political, economic, and social consequences, and these regions will provide case studies that might help predict the implications of broader demographic changes across the country. Already, Virginia Congressman Gerald Connolly has noted that recent demographic shifts have tilted the balance of power towards Democrats in traditionally Republican areas. “You’re going to start seeing that demographic impact politically in the outer suburbs” as they change as well, he predicted to The Washington Post. Just how will these changes impact political behavior?
A 2004 study called “The Mobilizing Effect of Majority–Minority Districts on Latino Turnout” suggests that the demographic shifts could have what the authors call an “empowering” impact for minority groups. The authors set out to examine a question debated by political scientists: What effect does residence in a majority-minority district have on voter turnout among the “minority” group? The authors consider the notion, held by some observers, that “low levels of competition in these districts, coupled with disappointment associated with the lack of perceived policy effects from increased descriptive representation, may serve as dual disincentives to participation and dissipate any gains in turnout.” In response, the authors first argue that it’s wrong to assume “non-competitive” races have a unique tendency to depress turnout in majority-minority districts, since the vast majority of races in most districts (especially House races), usually aren’t competitive, regardless of the district’s racial composition. Furthermore, in an analysis of majority-Latino districts in California, the authors did not detect depressed turnout resulting from voter disappointment. Instead, they found that “majority–minority districting boosts Latino turnout.” The authors caution that it may be difficult to generalize their research. Still, they say, “the potential up-ballot advantages of this increase in participation are profound.” That seems to be a testable notion: With such rapid demographic change occurring in so many major metropolitan areas, there’s plenty of material for more studies.