|Written by Mark Trahant,
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The power of Native voters …
beginning of a beautiful trend
I have been writing for years about
the success – well, at least mostly – of Native American voters.
During recent presidential election cycles the turnout from Indian
Country is inspiring, helping to swing elections from Arizona to
And just last year Alaska Native
voters helped dump a hostile state governor and replaced him with
Gov. Bill Walker, an ally, as well as electing Byron Mallott, a
Tlingit leader, as the Lt. Governor.
But do you want to know something
The demographic shift that reflects
Native voting power is only beginning. What’s more, the landscape
is changing faster than expected and should bring about dramatic
changes in states as “red” as Alaska and Oklahoma.
A new report looks at the numbers and
the results are stunning. In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected
president the population of the United States was 80 percent white.
Today that proportion stands at 63 percent and it’s likely to be
less than 44 percent by 2060. The report, “The States of Change:
Demographics and Democracy” is a collaboration of the liberal
Center for American Progress, the conservative American Enterprise
Institute and demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings
Institution. One of the goals is to “document and analyze the
challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution from
the 1970s to 2060.”
One lens that is particularly
revealing: States where people of color are the majority. The report
said: “Right now, there are only four majority-minority states:
California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas. But with the ongoing
demographic transformation of the country, our States of Change
projections find that this will become more and more common.” So in
five years, Maryland and Nevada will be in that category. Then by
2060 the number of majority-minority states will reach 22, including
seven of the currently largest states, making up about two-thirds of
the country’s population.
American Indians and Alaska Natives
are very much a part of this new majority because we are younger and
growing faster than an older white population.
Alaska is the
ideal example. The report says the state will be majority, minority
as soon as 2030. Alaska Native voters, Asian Americans, Hispanics and
African Americans will make up more than half the population then and
by 2040 nearly 60 percent.
Another state that’s about to change
dramatically is Oklahoma. That state’s white population dropped 20
percentage points – from 87 percent to 67 percent – between 1980
and 2014. This means Oklahoma is likely to be a majority-minority
state by 2045 and should be only 43 percent white by 2060.
Usually I am not pleased when I see
demographic tables that lump the Native American category into the
“other” category. But this report clearly identifies Native
Americans as a significant development in that category. The report
finds that South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota are also seeing a
rapid increase in the Native population – and potential voters.
So what do these trends mean for
We are going to have more say. Or
Political parties and politicians must
compete for American Indian and Alaska Native voters if they want to
remain competitive. So it will not be enough to say that Native
issues are a federal concern. Soon each state with a new majority of
voters will need to adapt, being a better partner with tribal
governments. The new voting majority means a better shot at Medicaid
expansion to support the Indian health system or to improve state
funding for tribal community colleges (a hot issue in Montana right
now) because legislators are going to need to address these issues if
they want to remain viable.
Of course none of these demographic
trends represent a sure thing. Fact is we still have a gap between
the Native population and the number of eligible voters (something
the report says is shrinking). And Indian Country doesn’t turnout
as many voters as is even possible now. But then again, being in the
majority might change that. There’s nothing better than winning
Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair
at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent
journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For
up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for
your smart phone or tablet.
Trahant’s latest book, “The
Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is about the legacy of Sen.
Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Forrest J. Gerard.