What will America look like in 2060?

Changing demographics' effect on politics unclear

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Several speakers at a Washington conference this week on the political ramification of changes in the population of America made the same point: “Demographics are not destiny.”

But they aren’t diddly-squat either. How the electorate changes over the next decades will, inevitably, shape elections, government and the economy, even if the study demographics can’t fill-in many of the specific blanks.

The conference was a cooperative effort between three of the big think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute (free-market conservative), the Brookings Institution (slightly left of center) and the Center for American Progress (Democratic). They unveiled an enormous study of the shifting population of America from roughly 1980 to 2060.

I can’t pretend to have absorbed very much of this massive data dump yet, so allow me to merely recommend browsing it a few times - it is loaded with fascinating material.

The basics of our future population are already familiar: America is becoming browner and grayer, and the gray is getting browner too. That is, we are becoming more diverse and older, and seniors will become much more diverse too.

In 2014, there were four majority-minority states, states where the minority population is larger than the white population. The “States of Change” reports estimates that the U.S. as a whole will be majority-minority by 2044. That is just eight presidential elections from now.

By 2060, the report predicts, 22 states with two-thirds of the people in America will be majority-minority.

Guessing how our political system will cope and serve change on that scale is a fun parlor game.

Interestingly, no one was imagining that the two-party system would go away. After all, the duopoly on power has withstood every challenge since the Civil War.

Depressingly, no one at the conference could find hopeful signs in today’s polarized environment about the two-party system’s ability to govern competently in the future. 

Indeed several speakers discussed how demographics have shaped hyper-partisanship, as the GOP becomes more of the white working class and super-wealthy party, while the Democrats depend on the minority vote to win.

In the short term, those demographic trends favor the Democrats. In the long run, who knows?

History, not demographics, tells us that very little about the future of politics was ever predicted very well.

[Also by Dick Meyer: Are Guilana and Walker's comments veiled racism?]

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