The changing electorate makes a win hard for Donald Trump

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Pollsters describe them as conservative, God-fearing white men and women, likely living in the suburbs or the countryside, who long for an image of America long past. Anxious about surging immigration, whiplash-speed cultural changes and an unrecognizable U.S. economy, they chose Donald Trump, celebrity billionaire, as their presidential candidate.

The shorthand, however, for that coalition – nostalgia voter – is equal parts apt and ironic: White conservatives' time as a political powerhouse, analysts say, is definitely in the past.

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Florida

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pumps his fist in the air during a campaign rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds on October 23, 2016 in Naples, Florida. Early voting in Florida in the presidential election begins October 24. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ohio

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at The Champions Center Expo in Springfield, Ohio, on October 27, 2016. (Photo credit PAUL VERNON/AFP/Getty Images)

Iowa

Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, speaks during the 2nd annual Roast and Ride hosted by Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, not pictured, in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. Ernst, who in 2014 won the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin when he retired, has turned her Roast and Ride into the conservative answer to the Harkin's legendary Steak Fry fundraiser, which auditioned dozens of presidential candidates over its 37-year history. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

North Carolina

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally on September 12, 2016 at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Trump criticized Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for saying that half of his supporters belong in a 'basket of deplorables.' (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Nevada

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

New Hampshire

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Sandown, N.H. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Colorado

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Golden, Colo. (AP Photo/ Brennan Linsley)

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They've been displaced by a new electoral juggernaut whose members typically live in the city, likely have black or brown skin and probably speak Spanish. The "rising American Electorate," as one think tank calls it, includes young people and single white women. Its members tend to skip church on Sunday, don't mind gay marriage and perhaps voted for President Barack Obama, the nation's first black commander-in-chief, at least once.

"For the first time in the history of this country, the majority of people who can vote among traditionally underrepresented demographics, will be the majority of people who do vote," says Page Gardner, founder and president of the Voter Participation Center, a nonpartisan think tank that studies the national electorate. "They will become, literally, the new American majority."

That electorate, experts say, could flex the same kind of ballot-box muscle that the nostalgia voters of today wielded for roughly 27 years, when right-leaning Christian voters swept President Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office. The Gipper's election, in turn, ushered in a conservative "revolution" that broke the Democrats' hammerlock on Congress, purged moderates from the GOP ranks and shifted the Supreme Court majority, anchoring it solidly on the right.

The emergence of minority, millennial and women voters as a powerful coalition, more likely to choose a Democrat than a Republican for president, signals big trouble for the GOP, which lost to Obama twice and likely will lose to Hillary Clinton, his hand-picked successor. Unless the Party of Lincoln breaks its reliance on the rapidly diminishing white Christian vote – which elected President George W. Bush twice but went zero-for-two against Obama, whom they abhorred – a Republican won't occupy the Oval Office for the foreseeable future.

"Just two election cycles ago in 2008, 54 percent of Americans identified as white and Christian, but today that number has dipped to 43 percent," says Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, a nonpartisan public-opinion research, in an email interview.

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What 'I Voted!' stickers look like around the country
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What 'I Voted!' stickers look like around the country
"I voted" stickers are on display for voters in the U.S. presidential election at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Ohio voting stickers for early voters sit on a table at the Fairfield County Board of Elections Office in Lancaster, Ohio, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Democrats are battling in almost a dozen close races to pick up enough seats to take over the chamber that Republicans now govern with a four-seat majority, while Republicans argue they should be kept in control there as a check on Clinton should the Democrat be elected president. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: A voter is seen outside the polls after casting their ballot in the national election on November 8, 2016 in New York, United States. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
PROVO, UT - NOVEMBER 08: A couple shows off their 'I Voted' sticker as they leave Wasatch Elementary school after casting their ballot in the presidential election on November 8, 2016 in Provo, Utah. Americans across the nation make their choice for the next president of the United States today. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 26: A Las Vegas Strip-themed 'I Voted' sticker is displayed at an early voting site at the Meadows Mall on October 26, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Voters in Clark County are voting early at a record pace this year ahead of the November 8 general election. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
'I voted' stickers, given to those who vote, are seen November 8, 2016, at Colin Powwell Elementary School, in Centreville, Virginia. Polling stations opened Tuesday as the first ballots were cast in the long-awaited election pitting Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. / AFP / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Ranelle Taylor points to her 'I Voted' sticker after voting in the US presidential election at Santa Monica City Hall on November 8, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. America's future hung in the balance Tuesday as millions of eager voters cast ballots to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as their first woman president, or hand power to the billionaire populist Donald Trump. / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - November 8: 'I Voted' stickers wait to be handed to citizens at Loudon County High School after they cast their ballots in the 2016 Presidential Elections in Leesburg, Va., USA on November 8, 2016. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Seth Schaecher, a deputy election official, displays stickers that he gives to voters, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, at a polling place in Exeter, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Iris Pettigrew carries voting stickers for voters after they cast their ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Precinct worker Carolyn Scott holds a voter sticker at the Bermuda precinct during the U.S presidential election in Dillon, South Carolina, November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
A poll worker hands out an "I voted" sticker to a voter during the U.S. presidential election at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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"Whites are still a majority at the ballot box due to higher turnout rates (we're projecting about 55 percent of 2016 voters to be white and Christian)," says Jones. But "that is down from 61 percent in 2008 and 63 percent in 2004, the last time a Republican won the White House."

Yet for Democrats, there's a dark cloud around that silver lining: The multicultural millennial coalition is a lot more casual about voting than their older white peers, and it tends to disengage from politics between presidential elections. Moreover, as an urban coalition with different interests than white voters in the countryside, harnessing their political clout will probably calcify the red-state, blue-state divide.

That means a higher likelihood the nation will have long-term divided government in Washington, experts say, and more of the legislative gridlock that goes along with it. And the agitated white voters aren't likely to go away.

"Even if Trump loses, we will still have to deal with a large segment of the population that is grappling with these changes and its own displacement as the dominant cultural force in the country," says Jones, author of "The End of White Christian America."

Though it's described as a "new" majority, Jones and others say the demographic changes that have shifted political power to millennials, single women and minorities have been under way for a decade, if not longer – including an increase in immigration, a decrease in church attendance and a substantial uptick in participation when it comes to presidential races.

"The white vote has been declining systematically, in election after election," says Gardner. "I think that will continue to happen, in presidential elections for sure."

While demographers calculate that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans will become a majority of the U.S. population by 2043, political change is coming more rapidly as members of that demographic become old enough to vote.

"While each state's demographics are changing at different paces and are being driven by different racial or ethnic groups, one trend is unmistakable: Non-Hispanic white voters are a shrinking share of the electorate," according to "The Changing Face of the American Electorate," a report published by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Voters of color "will represent the majority of the net increase in eligible voters between 2012 and 2016," according to the report. "In Pennsylvania, for example, people of color made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2012 and will rise to 19.2 percent by 2016.The growth of this electorate represents 87 percent of the net increase in eligible voters in the state and therefore may prove to be influential" in presidential races over the long term.

Since 2012, however, the rising American Electorate's population has spiked by 14 percent, according to the Voter Participation Center. Leading the increase: Hispanics, whose ranks of eligible voters increased by 17.4 percent (although the Asian-American eligible-voter population had a larger percentage increase – 27.3 percent – the Latino population is nearly three times larger, and it added twice as many people).

Other demographic groups in the new electorate have had significant increases since Obama was sworn in for his second term, including women, whose ranks jumped by nearly 7 percent, African-Americans (a 7.7 percent increase) and millennials (up 3.6 percent).

The GOP, meanwhile, has always relied more on white Christian voters than the Democrats, Jones says, but that gap has been widening more rapidly – and, demographic shifts aside, the GOP hasn't made much of an effort to change, despite the strong recommendations in its own, post-2012 election "autopsy."

"In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton's winning coalition was 62 percent white and Christian, but Barack Obama's 2012 winning coalition was only 37 percent white and Christian," says Jones. "In 1992, George H.W. Bush's coalition was 85 percent white and Christian, and Mitt Romney's 2012 coalition looked roughly the same at 80 percent white and Christian. So today, Republicans are currently twice as likely as Democrats to rely on white Christian voters" even though it's cost them the White House.

That hasn't changed in 2016: Trump is still depending on older white voters, who support him at upwards of 60 percent, while his polling among Hispanics is languishing at around 14 percent, a new low for Republican presidential candidates. His support among women hasn't broken 40 percent, while his poll numbers among African-Americans has flatlined in the low single digits.

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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to supporters at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Keane)

Supporters cheer during a campaign rally by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Staff Sergeant James Wainscoat, the man who stood up at a Obama/Hillary rally in eastern North Carolina this week attends Trump event in Raleigh, North Carolina, on 7 November 2016.

(Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ivanka Trump speaks beside her father, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, and vice presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, center, during a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. .

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Casey Peters, 8, of Raymond, N.H. waits outside to enter a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

A child watches as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Lackawanna College Student Union in Scranton, Pennsylvania on November 7, 2016.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani addresses a gathering at a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Scranton, Pa.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Attendees hold signs before the start of a campaign event for Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. A federal judge rejected arguments that Trump and his political adviser Roger Stone are rallying supporters to intimidate minority voters on Election Day by acting as vigilante poll monitors and 'ballot integrity' volunteers.

(Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Lara Trump, daughter-in-law to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, tosses out hats to the crowd before Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Keane)

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listen to him speak during a campaign rally at Lackawanna College, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Scranton, Pa.

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

A supporter sports Donald Trump socks prior to the Republican candidate's campaign stop at Dorton Arena Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 in Raleigh N.C. It's the final day before Election Day.

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Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, speaks to a campaign rally before the arrival of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks at a mask of himself as he speaks during a campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, U.S. November 7, 2016.

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A supporter listens as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses a rally at the Lackawanna College Student Union in Scranton, Pennsylvania on November 7, 2016.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 7, 2016.

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A supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waits at a rally at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on the final day of campaigning November 7, 2016.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at the J.S. Dorton Arena November 7, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. With less than 24 hours until Election Day in the United States, Trump and his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, are campaigning in key battleground states that each must win to take the White House.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Young supporters for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have their picture taken in front of a "TRUMP" sign at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Keane)

Republican vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, takes the stage to speak to a campaign rally before the arrival of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory speaks ahead of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Keane)

A man wears a Donald Trump mask during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Scranton, Pa.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, U.S. November 7, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., candidate for the U.S. Senate from Louisiana, signs a Donald Trump hat during a campaign rally for at Drusilla Seafood Restaurant in Baton Rouge, La., November 7, 2016. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke at the event.

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Jorge Gutierrez, a supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, tosses a football before a rally at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on the final day of campaigning November 7, 2016.

(DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Jr. makes a last minute campaign stop at Rub BBQ restaurant on Nov. 7, 2016 in Detroit, speaking with about 75 supporters.

(Kathleen Gray/Detroit Free Press/TNS via Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak to a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C.

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Supporter of Trump Await the Candidate at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh on November 7, 2016 on the last day of campaigning before election day.

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Supporters of Trump await the Candidate at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh on November 7, 2016 on the last day of campaigning before election day.

(Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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"In many ways, the Obama coalition was a harbinger of what to expect in future presidential elections as the very young Latino/a/x population matures into eligible voters," says Ciarra C. Torres-Spelliscy, who teaches elections law at Stetson University's College of Law in Deland, Florida.

That's good news for Democrats at the presidential level, but it might be too early to celebrate for congressional elections, Torres-Spelliscy says: "The same impact may not be felt in House races for some time because Congressional districts are notoriously gerrymandered by partisans for their own political advantage."

This is even more true because the new, more diverse coalition is consistently inconsistent: It turns out in presidential cycles, but skips voting in off-year and local elections, allowing more-engaged nostalgia voters to take control. That was particularly true in the 2010 midterm elections, when the young, multicultural Obama coalition stayed home, the GOP crushed the Democrats in state and congressional elections, then put the House on lockdown by redrawing legislative districts to protect Republican incumbents.

"In 2014, 42 percent of voting-eligible members of the RAE – over 52 million people – weren't registered," according to the Voter Participation Center. "In presidential election years, for every one voter in the RAE who was registered and didn't vote, there were four who were unregistered and therefore couldn't vote," including 51 percent of millennials, 49 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of unmarried women.

When asked why they didn't vote, "the number-1 reason they gave was that they don't have enough information about the candidates or about the policy debates on the issues they care about," according to the Voter Participation Center report. "There's also a lack of information about voting itself – which is all the more troubling because the ways Americans register and vote have changed dramatically" including voting by mail, online and early voting, as well as laws requiring government identification in order to cast a ballot.

Ultimately, Jones and others say, both Republicans and Democrats must adapt to the rising new electorate if they want to win elections – but also must allay the where-has-my-country-gone fears of nostalgia voters if they want to govern.

"Faced with rapidly changing demographics and also cultural norms, many conservative white Christians do see this election as a kind of 'last stand' to defend a more homogeneous vision of America, where white Christian values held sway," Jones says.

The reality TV star's appeal to restore American greatness "has tapped that sense of loss and anxiety," Jones says. Societal changes not on the horizon a decade ago, like gay marriage, the "gig economy" and minorities' demands for inclusion, he adds, "have been very recent and very fast, accelerating especially in the last decade. It's not unusual for the first responses to this kind of loss to be anger and denial, which is much of what we've seen in this election cycle."

Gardner agrees, noting whites "will still be a substantial portion of the electorate. They will have a big footprint. It's just reducing." She says that means "some of the issues, particularly around the economic issues that have been raised – those issues are going to have to be addressed, no matter who's president."

But those are issues for after Inauguration Day in January, Gardner says. Right now, she says, "everybody just wants the election to be over."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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