What 2012 Tells Us About Future Elections

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 30:  People with the group 'Youth United For Justice' hold signs in protest of Arizona's new immigration
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 30: People with the group 'Youth United For Justice' hold signs in protest of Arizona's new immigration law as they prepare to march to Oakland City Hall April 30, 2010 in Oakland, California. Dozens of people marched in protest of Arizona state bill 1070 which was signed into law this past week and gives law enforcement officials unprecedented authority to stop and question suspected illegal immigrants. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This campaign marked a turning point in American politics as usual. Changing demographics in the United States have been a subject of conversation for more than a decade. But the 2012 elections, highlighted patterns that began to emerge in 2000 when George W. Bush courted the Latino vote, and in 2004, when that support helped him win re-election. This year, President Obama and Governor Romney made no secret of seeking the Latino vote. In addition, a historic number of Asian and Latino candidates ran for Congress. And the discourse on immigration featured prominently at both conventions and in both campaigns.

The share of the Asian American and Latino electorate grew by the same rate between 2008 and 2012--about one percent--illustrating the increasingly important role that both Latinos and Asian Americans play in national elections. Given that Latinos currently constitute about 10 percent of the electorate and 50,000 Latinos turn voting age every month, it is no surprise that the Latino vote garners the most media attention. But Asian Americans, though a smaller share of the electorate (three percent), are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. and make up more than five percent of the population in one in four Congressional districts. Once again, as in 2008, Barack Obama can thank both Asians and Latinos for his victory. Exit polls showed that 72 percent of Asian Americans and 75 percent of Latinos voted for the President.

In 2012, a record number of Asian and Latino candidates also ran for Congress. In fact, heading to the polls in November, voters across the country saw over 80 Arab, Asian, Caribbean and Latino Americans on the ballots. The results were historic. Congress now has its largest cohort of Latino members, at 31, and Asian American members, at 11 (or 12 if Ami Bera is the winner of his race for California's sixth Congressional district). In some cases, these candidates consciously mobilized their own communities to ensure victory, as in the case of Congresswoman-elect Grace Meng (D), who will serve in the 113th Congress as the first Asian American Congress member from New York. Her newly drawn district is 38% Asian. Similarly, Latino candidate Tony Cardenas (D) was elected from California's 29th Congressional district, which is 70% Latino. In other cases, as with Senator-elect Ted Cruz (R), who made history as the first Latino senator elected in Texas, their elections were independent of targeted outreach to their own ethnic community. Thanks to redistricting efforts, the impact of a concentrated Asian or Latino population will be felt in municipal elections in 2013 and state legislative elections in 2014 as well. But as the 2012 elections showed, the appeal of Asian and Latino candidates will increasingly transcend ethnic lines.

Finally, candidates' position on issues, and voters' perception of those positions, played a critical role for immigrant voters. Governor Mitt Romney alienated many Asian and Latino voters early on in his campaign with the now infamous self-deportation proposal. On the other hand, President Obama's June announcement of deferred action for undocumented young people, strengthened his position in immigrant communities--35 percent of Asians and 58 percent of Latinos felt more enthusiastic about him as a result.

After an election night where President Obama won almost every swing state and Democrats fared far better than expected, in many cases because of minority voters, the issue of immigration and outreach to the Latino community has been on the mind of many Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Marco Rubio. This is as it should be. As 2012 showed, Asian and Latino voters and candidates, and the issues they care about, not only can, but do, affect the outcome of elections. The role of minority voters, the presence of immigrant candidates on the ballot, and candidates' attempts to address policy concerns of minority communities are trends that are not unique to 2012 campaigns. In an increasingly diverse country, they are the new normal in American politics.