The Future of Red, Blue, and Purple America
Election Demographics, 2008 and Beyond
About This Event

The evolution of American politics and policy has been intimately bound up with demographic and geographic change. The arrival of the GI generation, the advance of suburbanization, the rise of the baby boomers, and women’s entry into the workforce all had profound effects on our society. Today, new demographic and Listen to Audio

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geographic changes are shifting the fault lines of American politics. This conference of leading demographers, geographers, and analysts will examine seven of the most important of these changes. The first paper examines the structure of the all-important American suburbs, with a fresh look at the small but rapidly growing exurbs. The second paper analyzes the provocative notion of geographic clustering--the idea that people are increasingly likely to live near, and vote like, those who look, act, and think just like them--and what that could mean for politics and policy. The third paper investigates race and immigration, examining changes in the size and voting patterns of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Changing class structures, including the decline of the white working class and the rise of the mass upper middle class, is the subject of the fourth paper. The last three papers look at, respectively, changes in the American family (including the decline in the number of married-couple households with children and the rise of singles); whether America is becoming more secular, more religious, or both, and what these changes in religious belief and practice mean for our politics; and the aging of the baby boomers and the rise of the millennials, the largest generation in American history.

Campaign 2008 has already provided some tantalizing clues about the shifts underway in red, blue, and purple America. Speakers at this conference will explain where these trends come from, assess their likely effects on this year’s election, and outline the ways they may affect our political future and the policy challenges both parties have to face.

This conference is a joint project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

9:15 a.m.
Karlyn Bowman, AEI
Ruy Teixeira, Brookings Institution
Panel I: Geography
Robert Lang, Virginia Tech
"The New Suburban Politics: A County-Based Analysis of Metropolitan Voting Trends since 2000" (coauthors: Tom Sanchez, University of Utah; Alan Berube, Brookings Institution)
Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort
"The Big Sort: Migration, Community, and Politics in the United States of ‘Those People’" (coauthor: Robert Cushing, University of Texas at Austin)
Michael Barone, AEI
Ron Brownstein, Atlantic Media
Panel II: Race and Class
William Frey, Brookings Institution
"Race, Immigration and America's Changing Electorate"
Ruy Teixeira, Brookings Institution
Alan Abramowitz, Emory University
"The Decline of the White Working Class and Other Changes in
American Class Structure"
Reihan Salam, The Atlantic
Mark Schmitt, New America Foundation
12:10 p.m.
Panel III: Family, Religion, and Generational Change
Tom W. Smith, University of Chicago
"Changes in Family Structure, Family Values and Politics, 1972-2006"
E.J. Dionne, Brookings Institution
John Green, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
"Religion and American Politics: More Secular, More Evangelical, or Both?"
Scott Keeter, Pew Research Center
"The Aging of the Boomers and the Rise of the Millennials"
David Frum, AEI
Anna Greenberg, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Event Summary

Do Demographic Changes Point to a Democratic Future? Experts Debate at AEI

WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 29, 2008 -- Demography is, to a certain extent, destiny, and political changes are often foretold and explained by demographic transformations. Generational, religious, geographical, and socioeconomic changes offer key clues to the politics of tomorrow. Experts in demographics, politics, and public opinion spoke at a joint AEI/Brookings Institution conference on February 28 about how demographic shifts will affect the 2008 race and beyond. They concluded:

  • Almost all U.S. population growth to 2050 will be in metropolitan areas, especially inner and mature suburbs, which have been trending strongly Democratic.
  • Americans are increasingly sorting themselves geographically by affinity and ideology, creating "landslide communities."
  • The key battlegrounds of the 2008 elections will be the fast-growing swing states, which are experiencing rapid immigration.
  • The white working class--once a mainstay of Democrats--is shrinking, and as it has declined, so has its Democratic tilt.
  • As American family structures change, their family values are trending more liberal.
  • Democrats continue to draw strong support from the religiously unaffiliated and Republicans from white evangelical Christians.
  • The "millennial" generation born since 1977 has social, economic, and political views that lean toward the Democratic Party.

Geographical changes are creating new political realities. While urban cores remain solidly Democratic and exurbs and emerging suburbs remain strongly Republican, said Robert E. Lang of Virginia Tech, the fast-growing "urbanized suburbs" are trending strongly toward the Democrats. "Density equals Democrats," he said. "If the Democrats hold the 2006 gains made in urbanizing suburbs and stay competitive in the metropolitan fringe, the party will win the 2008 elections." Americans increasingly tend to live near those with cultural and political affinities, according to Bill Bishop, the author of The Big Sort. The number of counties dominated by a single party has dramatically increased over the past forty years. He described this effect as "perfectly natural," and questioned the extent to which the differences might be transcended: "We hear the talk about the end of partisanship, but we don't see many people changing neighborhoods."

The United States is steadily moving from being majority white to greater diversity and from an industrial economy to a knowledge/service economy. Brookings demographer William Frey presented several trends on the racial and ethnic changes and how they break down along educational, party, and geographical lines. He commented that Hispanic and Asian growth is not fully represented in election results because so many of these immigrants are under eighteen or are not citizens. Another dimension of demographic change is the startling decline of the "white working class." According to Ruy Teixeira of Brookings and Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, the group has shrunk by thirty-one percentage points since 1940. Once a Democratic core group, it became less Democratic as it declined, but because several swing states have high concentrations of white working class voters, this group will be very important in the 2008 elections.

Indicators of social, generational, and religious change are mixed. Nontraditional family structures are growing, the University of Chicago's Tom W. Smith said, and "family values and family structure go together." Married voters traditionally lean Republican and vote more than others, but as their proportion dips and values become more liberal, the Republican advantage will erode. Changing family structures (especially increases in divorce) have helped to shape the political outlook of the millennials, who lean strongly to the Democratic Party today. According to Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center, there is an opportunity here for Republicans. While the millennials are more liberal on issues like immigration, gay marriage, and big government, they are more entrepreneurial and individualistic, favoring private Social Security accounts, for example. Religious trends are complex, said John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Democrats retain the strong support of the unaffiliated and Republicans the support of white evangelicals, and party preference frequently correlates with degrees of observance rather than denomination. But Brookings's E. J. Dionne Jr. pointed to "evidence that the 'culture war' approach to politics may have abated."

Several top journalists and analysts offered comments, including AEI's Michael Barone and David Frum, Ron Brownstein of Atlantic Media, pollster Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, Reihan Salam of The Atlantic, and Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation. Organized by Teixeira and AEI's Karlyn Bowman, the conference will result in a Brookings Institution Press book to appear later this year.


A version of this summary first appeared on The American. For video, audio, slides, and the papers from this conference, visit

For more information, contact Adam Foster at [email protected] or 202.828.5917.

For media inquiries, contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected] or 202.862.4870.


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  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.
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