According to demographers, more white Americans died last year than were born -- the first time this has occurred in the history of the nation. Even more surprising, the shrinking of the white population has begun more rapidly than previously predicted.
The decline of America's white population is being fueled by a variety of factors, among them that white women are having fewer children, and at later ages than other racial groups, and the immigrant population is increasing. But perhaps even more interesting than the numbers themselves is the impact they are likely to have on American society.
One of the most significant ways will be on politics. The 2012 presidential election gave a glimpse into how the American electorate is changing. Gov. Mitt Romney's supporters skewed older and whiter, while President Obama won handily among Asian and Latino voters and nearly swept African-American voters. Political analyst Charlie Cook broke down the numbers as follows:
The white share of the vote in presidential elections has dropped 15 points over the past six elections, from 87 percent in 1992 to 72 percent in 2012. This trend has little to do with Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president. The declines from one presidential election to the next have been consistent: a 4-point drop from 1992 to 1996, 2 more points in 2000, 4 additional points in 2004, 3 points in 2008, and 2 points last year.
Cook further notes this:
According to a Nov. 14 report by the Pew Research Hispanic Center, 40 percent of the population growth of citizens of voting age between now and 2030 will be Hispanic, 21 percent will be black, and 15 percent will be Asian-American. Only 23 percent of that growth will be white.
This means that unless the Grand Old Party stages one of the greatest turnarounds in political history, America will become an increasingly blue country. Although there was a time when it seemed as if America would simply become more politically segregated (states like New York would become bluer while states like Utah simply became redder, with a dwindling number of purple states deciding the presidential elections), even primarily white states are feeling the impact of our nation's demographic changes. As previously covered on The Root, Utah is experiencing some of the fastest growth among multiracial people of any state in the Union.
Shifting racial demographics, particularly in the South and the Midwest, have shaped some key races. President Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to carry North Carolina, while Hispanic voters are credited with saving Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a tough re-election battle in Nevada in 2010.
Since no one expects Republicans to simply give up, the question becomes how the party will attempt to rebuild and rebrand. Its most obvious pathway is through policy, as evidenced through the immigration-reform efforts being championed by various Republican leaders. But the strategy the party is more likely to follow in the immediate future is one it has relied on for years: cultivating a diverse roster of candidates.
When it comes to officeholders, the GOP arguably has a more impressive bench than the Democrats. GOP governors include Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who is Indian American; Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, both of whom are Mexican American; and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, of Florida and Texas, respectively, who are both of Cuban descent. In addition, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is African American, and the party is also said to be grooming famed African-American surgeon Ben Carson as a potential future candidate.
The accomplishments and successful campaigns of these individuals make it clear that they are more than just tokens or window dressing. Any one of them could pose a serious threat to future Democratic opponents. These candidates of color could be part of the GOP's solution to its shrinking white voter base -- but only a temporary one. Sooner or later the Republican Party is going to have to get with the program in terms of its policies, or one day the GOP will go the way of the dinosaur and become something that people read about only in history books.
(Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.)