The US elections are (almost) over, though the incumbent president is challenging the results. The complicated history of minority political activity might be entering a whole new era.
Two photographs show two sides of minority political activity in America.
After a tumultuous week, the US presidential elections appear to be over, on paper at least.
Joe Biden will be back in the White House, and this time, as the 46th President of the United States.
When he is officially inaugurated on January 21, Biden will become the oldest person to assume office at age 78. And his running mate Kamala Harris, will become the first female and first person of Black and South Asian descent to serve as vice president. Harris’ story in particular vividly exemplifies the American Dream, in which every person has an equal opportunity to achieve the highest of goals and aspirations.
For many people across the country, the election results are indicative of a return to an era of normalcy, where America is a country that leads through inclusiveness rather than isolationism. In his victory speech, Biden made sure to emphasize the above, highlighting the importance for Americans to mend divisions and sow seeds of harmony and healing.
Propelling Biden’s victory was strong overall support from minority groups including African and Asian Americans. Yet while he may have won the popular vote with over 76 million, 71 million people still voted for current president Donald Trump, marking record turnout and support for both candidates. The fact of the matter is, America is deeply polarized, and perhaps the most it has been in a long time.
What do this year’s elections mean for minority voters? To answer this question, it is important to examine changes in voter demographic compositions for Trump.
Since 2016, many whites have gravitated towards the Democratic party due to their perceptions of Trump as a racist and rejection of his demagoguery. However, the exact opposite pattern may be holding among minority voters, as recent trends indicate that the president has actually built support among minority groups since entering office.
Particularly, the sheer impact that Latino voters had on these elections cannot be understated. Trump made significant gains among Hispanics, especially in battleground states such as Texas and Florida. In the former, 41 to 47 percent of Latino voters cast their ballots for Trump in several heavily Latino border counties in the Rio Grande Valley region, traditionally safe Democratic strongholds. The latter saw Trump winning 45 percent of the overall Latino vote, marking a whopping 11-point improvement from his performance in 2016.
In addition, Trump substantially increased support among African-Americans. 13 percent of Black men voted for Trump in 2016 compared to 18 percent in 2020, equivalent to roughly 500,000 more votes. Furthermore, the president nearly doubled his support from Black women as well, winning eight percent (868,000) of them this year versus four percent (383,000) in 2016. And in Detroit, where Blacks make up nearly 80 percent of the population, Trump gained 5,000 more votes than he did in 2016, in a small yet significant increase.
There is some evidence that points to Biden having lost support among other minority groups as well. For example, Biden lost by 40 points in North Carolina’s Robeson County, where Native Americans form a majority of voters and which former president Barack Obama comfortably won by 20 points in 2012.
As these trends suggest, these gradual shifts of non-white voters towards the Republican party cannot be denied anymore. In a year in which Democrats embraced social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, the party actually lost its grip among minorities, thus creating a paradoxical dilemma. What exactly happened here?
For quite some time, the Democratic party has tended to address multicultural issues with a one-size-fits-all approach, equating experiences of one community with another. This strategy is unsustainable going forward. For example, the experiences of African-Americans cannot be lumped together with those of Asian-Americans. On a more micro level, Hispanics are some of the most variable minority groups in the US when it comes to beliefs on key social issues.
The principal Democratic perspective is that minority groups are subjected to deep, systematic discrimination and require appropriate protection from the government as a result. While this is entirely true for Black people, who have historically faced cruel treatment, many other immigrants – especially those who came voluntarily – have had different living experiences in the US, and thus may not identify with said party viewpoints.
This doesn’t mean that Democrats should be sounding alarm bells everywhere. The Democratic party continues to comfortably receive support from a majority of non-white voters. However, these compositional trends are indicative of certain elements of racial depolarization taking shape. On one hand, such a process may end up being beneficial for America, increasing competitiveness between both parties and resulting in more minority-friendly policies enacted by each. On the other hand, it could weaken the party’s reliance on demography as a sure-fire path to electoral victory.
As such, while there remains general optimism among minority voters about the election outcome, President-Elect Biden will certainly be tested in his ability to unite the country and heed their concerns all over. It is a task that he will be expected to accomplish, in order for the Democratic party to continue its long-standing reputation as the party of diversity for years to come.
(Abhinav Seetharaman is a recent graduate of Columbia University, from where he obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is currently based in Singapore.)