Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama Chances in Suburbs Rest on Population Shift

Another take on the presidential race of 2008: changing demographics affecting the vote.

“In many ways, these two candidates are the bookends of the demographic, racial transformation that's going on in the United States,'' Bill Frey, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said at a forum last week.

A 47-year-old black man and a 72-year-old white man: bookends in age, of two different generations. Harks back to JFK taking over from Ike.

If Leesburg, the area west of Dulles airport, goes Democratic, “Barack Obama is likely to win the election, just based on that single piece of information,'' said Robert Lang, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, Virginia. “If you take up too much of the metropolitan vote, there's not enough rural voters left'' for Republicans to win, he said.

More Hispanics, more Asians, more college graduates.

Much of the 47-year-old Illinois senator's advantage in national polls is shaped by voter anxiety over the economy. Other factors may be at work as well. What Frey called demographic “mega trends'' – or major changes in voting populations – also are recasting the electorate. While the economy looms large, “we need to keep an eye out on these mega trends and not be too blinded by the issue aspect'' of the election, said Frey.

It's an abrupt shift; W. Bush won Virginia 4 years ago.And he did so by appealing to a demographic David Brooks labeled Patio Man: a married exurban man culturally conservative. Sort of the Suffolk County dude who watches football on his large-screen TV, drive an SUV and has a perky wife and three kids.

Another mega-trend is the Hispanic population. There are many more Hispanics in Nevada now than there were 4 years ago, a trend favoring Democrats.

Their votes could be pivotal in some Sun Belt states like Nevada, which has recorded 52,000 new immigrant and Latino registrations since February, according to the We Are America Alliance, a Washington-based immigrant and minority rights group. That's more than twice Bush's 2004 victory margin. Bush also won New Mexico by less than 6,000 votes in 2004, and there are 40,000 new registrations there.

Two important states.

The final “mega'' demographic trend is the rise of a new generation of voters – the so-called millennials – whose political leanings have been shaped by the last two presidencies.

The millennials “have two presidents they can remember in their adulthood,'' Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, Keeter said at the Brookings forum. “This has been very good for the Democratic brand with this age group.''

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