How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

As voters' demographics change, so will the political landscape

Demographics can have dramatic electoral consequences. The operative word in that sentence is "can." It depends on whether voters see a connection between their vote and an election outcome that will directly affect them. If they do not see a link between voting and a benefit to them, there is a strong likelihood they will not vote.

Anthony Downs, in his seminal book on political theory, "An Economic Theory of Democracy," argues that "rational voters" will rarely make the decision to turn out to vote based on the utility of voting, since voting is "costly" - if they include the time required to obtain information regarding the candidate's positions and the physical cost of getting to the polling place and taking time off of work to vote. Downs makes the case that, given the "cost" of voting and the infinitesimally small probability that one vote will determine the outcome of the election, voting is, for most individuals, an "irrational" act.

If, however, a particular demographic group sees its preferences aligned with one party, it is not uncommon for its members to vote en masse for that party. Witness the strong support for the Democratic Party among African Americans (Obama received 95 percent of the black vote in the 2008 presidential election and 93 percent in 2012) and Jewish voters (70 percent self-identify as Democrats vs. 49 percent of the American public). Only 22 percent of Jews consider themselves as leaning Republican, compared to 39 percent of the overall public.

From an electoral perspective nationwide, there are two growing demographic changes that will be more salient than all others in the years to come. The first is the increase in the percentage of elderly in the U.S. population, resulting from increased longevity and the nation's declining fertility rates. In a recent article in The Atlantic, "What happens when we all live to 100?" Gregg Easterbrook wrote, "Politics may come to be dominated by the old, who might vote themselves even more generous benefits for which the young must pay. Social Security and private pensions could be burdened well beyond what current actuarial tables suggest."

The sleeping demographic giant that could have the most dramatic impact on politics at all levels in the next few decades is Hispanic voters. They are by far the nation's youngest ethnic group (27 years vs. 42 years for white non-Hispanics). According to projections by the Pew Hispanic Center, they will account for 40 percent of the growth of eligible voters in the U.S. between now and 2030, at which time 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, up from 23.7 million today.

The key question is whether Hispanics will continue to be apathetic voters. According to the Hispanic Center, "the nation's 53 million Hispanics comprise 17% of the total U.S. population but just 10% of all voters this year." Experts seem to agree that unless Republicans temper their position on immigration, the likelihood of their improving their standing among Hispanic voters is nil.

In Mercer County, substantial changes in Asian and Hispanic/Latino demographics could have a significant impact on future election results. From 2000 to 2010, there has been substantial growth in these populations in several of the county's municipalities. The United Way of Greater Mercer County found that "the percentage of Mercer County residents identifying themselves as Hispanic/Latino has increased from 9.7% to 15.1% between 2000 and 2010, while those identifying as Asian rose from 4.9% to 8.9% over the same time period. The municipalities of Hamilton, Hightstown, and Trenton have seen the largest increase in the Hispanic/Latino population, while the Asian population has grown substantially in East and West Windsor, Lawrence, Robbinsville, and Princeton." We could see a boost in voter turnout among these demographics if an issue surfaces in one of these communities that is of particular concern to these populations.

Generally increased demographic group voter turnout is a good thing. However, some would question whether that is the case in the East Ramapo, N.Y., school district. This district has 14 schools that serve approximately 9,000 working-class children, of which 85 percent are black or Hispanic and 7 percent are white. Approximately 20,000 students who live in East Ramapo attend private schools, primarily yeshivas and Jewish day schools that cater to Orthodox and Hasidic families. Many of these families, who are borderline poor themselves, pay tuition for their children as well as property taxes to support a public-school system that seems a world away.

In recent years, Orthodox Jews, who do not send their children to the public schools, have gained control of the school board. "Because of their success in turning out voters en masse, the Orthodox Jews have a political influence that exceeds their numbers," indicated Peter Applebome in an article in The New York Times. The result was that non-Orthodox residents believed the Orthodox community has used its political clout to eliminate essential educational services. It appeared to many that minority students in East Ramapo may have been shortchanged as a result of a combination of Jewish bloc voting combined with general voter apathy.

No matter what one's take on what occurred in East Ramapo, it is clear that voting and demographics matter.