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Study: Changes in voter demographics driven by internal, natural growth

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WASHINGTON – The rapid growth of minority representation in the electorate is not due to immigration but is being driven largely by internal factors, a panel of experts said Tuesday at a discussion on democracy and demographic change.

Higher fertility rates among minorities, migration of minority populations from “melting pot” states to inner states and the gradual naturalization of older immigrants have helped turn the long-predicted shift of the population into a shifting electorate.

That was the finding of a national report jointly released this week by the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress.

In 2014, four states – California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas – had populations that were made up mostly of minorities. Arizona is one of six states expected to reach that “minority majority” landmark in the next 15 years, said William Frey, panel member and demographer with the Brookings Institution.

Minorities currently comprise 45 percent of Arizona?s total population and 35 percent of its electorate. Arizona is projected to become a minority majority as early as 2023. The state’s electorate is predicted to become a minority majority by 2038, according to the report.

The demographic changes in Arizona’s population and electorate are reflective of changes sweeping the nation. The U.S. population is becoming more diverse “from the bottom up,” Frey said, with minorities growing most quickly among those under age 18. At the same time, the U.S. population as a whole is becoming older, as more Baby Boomers reach retirement.

“We see an enormous challenge for the country because we are going through two demographic revolutions simultaneously: We are diversifying, and we are aging,” said Ron Brownstein, a panel member and Atlantic Media’s editorial director for strategic partnerships. “I call this phenomenon the brown and the gray.”

In Arizona, the proportion of minority children is one of the highest in the nation, with about 60 percent of those under 18 identifying as a member of a minority group. Most of the growth comes from Hispanics in the state.

The “brown and the gray” changes to America’s demographic landscape will affect policy across the board as minorities reach voting age, panelists said.

Pew Research Center President Michael Dimmock estimated that 800,000 Latinos turn 18 each year.

“That’s different from the past 20 years where a lot of the growth was coming from immigration and people who were not eligible to vote – people whose identity with America was fundamentally different because of that,” Dimmock said.

“People who were born in this country who are now second- and third-generation Latinos are becoming a majority within that population,” he said. “As you get into the second and third generation, the identity doesn’t shift to Latino, it shifts to American.”