The sizable migration of racial minorities to Atlanta’s suburbs may not be the expected, severe blow to conservatism and the Republican Party.
During the past decade, more and more black, Hispanic and Asian Americans moved to places like Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Conventional wisdom holds that these typically Democratic-leaning groups pose a threat to the GOP in its traditional strongholds.
While that forecast may come true, it hasn’t yet. And there’s good reason to think it won’t anytime soon. But first, a few data points from the 2010 census released Thursday.
No Georgia county added more residents between 2000 and 2010 than Gwinnett. With 216,871 newcomers, the county vaulted past Cobb and DeKalb into second place in the state, behind only Fulton.
Gwinnett’s minority population, however, grew by more than a quarter million — more than making up for a net outflow among whites. In 2000, Gwinnett was two-thirds white; now, minorities make up a comfortable majority.
The shift was less dramatic in Cobb (69 percent white in 2000 to 56 percent in 2010). But one thing the two big counties had in common was that they both remained firmly Republican last November.
To see how firm the GOP’s grip was relative to the past, compare 2010’s election results to those of 1998. Drawing a comparison with the last census year, 2000, is tricky because there was a presidential election that year but not in 2010 — and turnout in Georgia is very different when the White House is up for grabs.
The 1998 election has other parallels to 2010: In both years, a Republican U.S. senator ran for re-election but there was no incumbent in the gubernatorial race (plus, the Democratic candidate each time was Roy Barnes). And 1998 is farther back than 2000 in terms of the demographic shift — so, if anything, the change ought to be more pronounced.
Yet, little changed in terms of partisan politics.
In 1998, Barnes lost Cobb by 8 percentage points; last year, the margin was almost twice as large at 15 points.
In Gwinnett, Barnes fared somewhat better in 2010, losing by “just” 20 points rather than 25 the first time around. Given the tremendous demographic change over those 12 years, one would have expected Gwinnett to be much more competitive. But Nathan Deal was in no danger of losing the county.
In last year’s U.S. Senate race, Johnny Isakson won by 28 points in Gwinnett. His predecessor, Paul Coverdell, took the county by 34 points in 1998. So, again, there was some falloff but still a healthy margin of victory for the Republican. (In Cobb, Isakson did seven points better than Coverdell did.)
I have a hunch that things aren’t going to change very much in the future, either. Traffic, zoning fights and the other issues that accompany the kind of rapid growth seen in Atlanta’s suburbs are all color-blind.
While many minority voters accustomed to picking Democrats will stick to that habit, at least for a while, people ultimately vote their interests. The Democratic Party traditionally has aligned itself with many of the interests of urban minorities. But when those voters move to the ’burbs, they may well decide that the GOP offers better solutions to the different problems they find there.
If so, whole blocs of voters may be newly open to ideas they didn’t embrace before. Either way, a lessening of the usual identity politics will be good for us all.
– By Kyle Wingfield