America's New Swing Region
Changing Politics and Demographics in the Mountain West
BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PRESS
Copyright © 2012 THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
All right reserved.
Chapter One America's New Swing Region:
The Political Demography and Geography of the Mountain West William H. Frey and Ruy Teixeira
This chapter on the political demography and geography of six Mountain West states—Arizona, Colorado, Idaho Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—focuses on a demographically dynamic part of the country where the current balance of political forces is in flux. Demographic and geographic trends are constantly testing the political balance in these states, as was evident in the 2008 presidential election when three of the states turned from "red" to "blue" and the other three remained red. This chapter provides a guide to the trends that are currently reshaping the balance of forces in these states, with considerable implications for the states' long-range political trajectories.
The dramatic growth of these states is shown in table A-1. Over the 2000–10 decade, Nevada and Arizona ranked first and second among the states in growth, increasing their total populations by 35 and 25 percent, respectively. Utah was third, Idaho was fourth, Colorado was ninth, and New Mexico, the slowest growing of the six, still grew faster than the nation as a whole. For the most part, growth in these states is linked to new Western economies tied to growing "megapolitan regions" and industries such as information technology, financial services, energy, and tourism.
For each state, we start by delineating our regions of analysis and discussing population growth patterns for the state as whole and for each region. We then provide demographic and growth profiles for the state and each region, focusing particularly on four key demographics: minorities; white, working-age college graduates; the white, working-age, working-class population; and white seniors. We then describe the demographic voting patterns within the state and continue with an extensive discussion of how different regions within the state have trended politically since 1988. We conclude the analysis of each state with an assessment of the key trends and groups to watch for in the 2012 election and beyond. Together our analyses show how these states shifted from a heavily Republican bloc to a new swing region in U.S. politics.
Data Sources and Definitions
The demographic, polling, and voting statistics presented in this chapter are the latest available from authoritative sources. The demographic profiles of states and their regions are drawn from the U.S. decennial censuses through 2010 and the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) of the Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey. Polling data are drawn from CBS/New York Times (1988) and National Election Pool (2004 and 2008) state exit polls. Presidential and congressional election data are drawn from official county-level election returns for the six states.
Our analysis of eligible voters—citizens ages 18 and older—draws on data from the 2010 American Community Survey and the 2000 census to examine these voters with respect to several social and demographic attributes. Special emphasis is given to four key demographic segments of eligible voters: minorities—all persons stating something other than "non-Hispanic white alone" as their race/ethnicity; white seniors—non-Hispanic whites ages 65 and older; working-age, white college graduates—non-Hispanic whites ages 18 to 64 having a four-year college degree; and working-age, working-class whites—non—college-educated non-Hispanic whites ages 18 to 64.
The substate regional definitions that we employ are discussed and displayed on maps in each state-specific section. They are typically based on counties or groups thereof that make up metropolitan areas or other regions that are strategically important in terms of their recent demographic shifts or voting trends. These regions will be used to identify substate trends drawn from U.S. census county data and county-level election returns. Regions delineated for the analysis of eligible voter demographics in each state-specific section sometimes deviate slightly from the regional definitions that we employ. This is due to the geographic limitations of data available with the 2010 American Community Survey PUMS, which is used in these analyses. Details about these slight differences in regional definition are available from the authors.
Arizona was the second-fastest-growing state for 2000–10, after Nevada. It has gobbled up electoral college votes, adding one vote after each of the censuses from 1960 though 1990 and two votes after 2000. Despite a sharp slowdown in growth in the last few years, it still gained one vote after the 2010 census, and its new total of eleven votes can make a difference in a close election. Arizona is the home of Barry Goldwater and a conservative Republican tradition; nonetheless, its dramatically shifting demographics prompted many observers to contend that it would have been strongly in play in 2008 had Arizona senator John McCain not become the Republican presidential standard-bearer.
Regions of Arizona
The regions for Arizona are shown in map B-1 (see color insert after page 22); related population and growth statistics are shown in map B-2 and table B-1. The regions are as follows:
—Phoenix: Maricopa and Pinal counties, coincident with the Phoenix–Mesa–Scottsdale metropolitan area. Metropolitan Phoenix, with a population of 4.1 million, accounts for 66 percent of the state population, and it has grown 29 percent in the last decade, faster than the state as a whole
—Tucson: Pima County, coincident with the Tucson metropolitan area, which is the state's second largest, with a population of nearly 1 million. The home of the University of Arizona, it accounts for 15 percent of the state's population. Its growth rate has been 16 percent since 2000, lower than that for Phoenix or the state as a whole, but it continues to attract both immigrants and domestic migrants.
—North: Includes Coconino County, which coincides with the Flagstaff metropolitan area, along with Apache and Navajo counties. It contains a substantial Native American population. The North region accounts for only about 5 percent of the state's population; it grew a modest 10.7 percent in 2000–10.
—West: Consists of rapidly growing Yavapai County, coincident with the Prescott metropolitan area, as well as equally fast-growing Mohave County, LaPaz County on the western border, and Yuma County, bordering Mexico and coincident with the Yuma metropolitan area. Due to the very rapid growth in the northwest part of this region, which borders both Nevada and California, the West region increased its population by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010. It accounts for nearly 10 percent of the state's population.
—Southeast: Consists of Graham, Gila, Greenlee, Cochise, and Santa Cruz counties, all located in the southeastern part of the state bordering New Mexico and Mexico. The region, which accounts for just 4 percent of the state's population, has grown at 11.5 percent since 2000.
Overall, it is the rapidly growing metropolitan Phoenix region that has the greatest potential for affecting statewide election results as well as longer-term political trends in Arizona.
Arizona's Eligible Voters
Arizona's profile is similar to Nevada's in its percentage of minority eligible voters (31 percent) and white, working-age, working-class eligible voters (37 percent). (See tables A-2A and A-2B.) Arizona, however, has slightly higher percentages of white college graduates and white seniors than Nevada does. Another similarity between the two is the very large shift in the minority share of eligible voters in each state; still another similarity is the high share of eligible voters in each state who were born out of state. Both have shown especially fast growth among voters born in California and outside the United States. Still, statewide patterns do not hold in all regions, and there is considerable divergence in the demographic profile of individual regions. (See table B-2A.) For example, both the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas have significantly larger shares of white college graduates than other regions.
The North region, on the other hand, is heavily minority, due to its very large Native American population; most of the "minority white" population is working-class white. The small Southeast region also shows a substantial minority share, mostly composed of Hispanics. In contrast, the West is the "whitest" of all regions, with white seniors making up a quarter of eligible voters and the white working class outnumbering white college graduates almost 5 to 1.
In terms of recent changes in shares of eligible voters, the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas as well as the West region are quite consistent with statewide patterns, showing a substantial decline in the share of working-class whites and a similar gain for minorities (see table B-2B). In contrast, in the Native American—dominated North region, white seniors showed the highest gains in share in 2000–10. In the smaller Southeast region, white seniors also showed a noticeable gain in share. Overall, due to relatively slow growth rates, white working-class voters are declining as a share of voters in the state as a whole and in every region. It is especially noteworthy that Phoenix and Tucson have seen substantial declines in the white working-class share of the electorate, and both metros now have a large presence of minorities and white, collegegraduate eligible voters. These trends are likely to make these areas friendlier territory for Democrats.
Demographic Voting Trends in Arizona
We now turn to how Arizonans have been voting in recent elections. Table B-3 displays some basic exit poll data from the 2008 presidential election. In 2008, Arizona voted solidly Republican, by 53 to 45 percent. McCain's 8-percentage-point margin in the state was only slightly less than Bush's 10-point margin in 2004, despite the big pro-Democratic shift in neighboring states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. No doubt that reflected McCain's status as a favorite son presidential candidate.
According to the exit polls, McCain's victory was based on 59 percent to 40 percent support from white voters, who were 76 percent of all voters. That more than made up for McCain's 25-point loss (36 to 61 percent) among minority voters, driven by a 9—90 percent deficit among blacks (4 percent of voters) and by a 41—56 percent deficit among Hispanics (16 percent of voters).
McCain carried male voters by 8 points and female voters by 9 points—essentially no gender gap. However, a slight gender gap can be seen when comparing white men and white women, whom McCain carried by 21 and 17 points, respectively. McCain carried every education group. His best showing was among high school graduates (+13 points) followed by college graduates (+12). He also carried all age groups, except young voters, whom he lost by 4 points. Arizona white working-class voters supported McCain over Obama by 21 points, slightly above the national average. McCain also did well among white college graduates, whom he carried by 17 points, substantially above his nationwide performance.
McCain's support among Arizona's white working-class voters varied by region. Using the exit poll regions, which match fairly closely with the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas but include a third region (Rest of State) that roughly combines our South, North, and West regions, we find that McCain's white working-class advantage was greatest in the Rest of State region (51 points), far less in the Phoenix area (13 points), and even less in the Tucson area (8 points). Among white college graduates, McCain's support was highest (25 points) in the Phoenix area and least in the Tuscon area (only a 1 point advantage).
Geographic Voting Shifts in Arizona
Maps B-3 and B-4 show how voting patterns played out geographically in 2008 and 1988. Each county is color-coded by its margin for the victorious presidential candidate (dark blue for a Democratic victory of 10 points or more; light blue for a Democratic victory of under 10 points; bright red for a Republican victory of 10 points or more; light red for a Republican victory of under 10 points). In addition, our five Arizona regions are marked on each map by heavy black lines.
According to the 2008 map, only two regions had any blue in them: the Tucson metro area and the North region (except for tiny Santa Cruz County, adjacent to Tuscon in the Southeast region, which has a population of around 40,000). As shown in table B-4, these were the only regions that Obama carried in Arizona, by 6 and 10 percentage points, respectively. McCain carried the other three regions, including the Phoenix metro area (bright red) by 11 points. Since the Phoenix metro contributed 64 percent of the statewide vote, it was obviously central to the GOP's 2008 victory. McCain also carried the Southeast region (bright red, except for Santa Cruz County) by 18 points and the West (bright red) by 25 points.
As shown in the map for 1988—when Republicans carried the state by 21 points—there were only two blue counties in Arizona, located on the far eastern border and very lightly populated. Thus, while Republicans did dominate the vote in 2008, their dominance was far less than it had been twenty years before.
Map B-5 shows where the political shifts in Arizona took place over the 1988—2008 period. Counties that are dark green had margin shifts toward the Democrats of 10 points or more, light-green counties had margin shifts toward the Democrats of 10 points or less, orange counties had margin shifts toward the Republicans of 10 points or more, and light-yellow counties had margin shifts toward the Republicans of 10 points or less.
The Southeast region, where four of five counties are yellow or orange, is the only region that moved toward the GOP over the time period (by 7 points). The West region split evenly between light-yellow and light-green counties (though the light-green counties are the two metro areas in the region, Yuma and Prescott) and had a modest 1 point move toward the Democrats. The North region, on the other hand, had a strong 10 point move toward the Democrats, led by the dark-green Flagstaff metro area. Much more significant than those shifts is what happened in the two big metro areas, Tuscon and Phoenix. Tucson (light green), which accounted for 17 percent of the Arizona vote, shifted toward the Democrats by 8 points. And the Phoenix metro area (accounting for 64 percent of the statewide vote), led by Maricopa County (dark green), shifted toward the Democrats by an impressive 19 points. Together, the two metro areas represent 81 percent of the statewide vote shifting strongly to very strongly toward the Democrats over the time period.
It is interesting to compare the political shifts in map B-5 to the population growth map (map B-2). The second-slowest-growing region, the Southeast (12 percent growth since 2000), containing the only declining (red) county, is also the only region that has moved toward the GOP since 1988. The fastest-growing region, the very populous Phoenix metro (29 percent growth since 2000), is also the region that has moved the most sharply toward the Democrats.
Better news for the GOP is that the pro-Republican West region is the second-fastest-growing region (25 percent since 2000) and has exhibited only a modest shift toward the Democrats since 1988. However, the West provides only 9 percent of the statewide vote, while the pro-Democratic Tucson metro area, which is also growing fairly fast (16 percent), contributes 17 percent of the Arizona vote and has had a sharper shift toward the Democrats.
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