An Evolving Electorate: 4 Changing Demographics

  • December 05, 2016

Editor’s Recommendation

U.S. Political Parties Reach Biggest Divide in 25 Years

by Charles Babington

Fall 2016

The Pew Research Center report is based on 253 surveys and more than 340,000 interviews among registered voters conducted from January 1992 to August 2016. Some of the major findings:


Declines in the percentage of white Americans (and white voters) continue; non-Hispanic whites now make up 70 percent of registered voters, down from 84 percent in 1992. The share of Hispanic voters has nearly doubled, from 5 percent in 1992 to 9 percent. The share who are black has edged up, from 10 percent to 12 percent. The share describing their race as mixed or “other” has grown from 1 percent to 5 percent.

Overall, 87 percent of black voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while 7 percent identify as or lean Republican. Among Hispanics, Democrats hold a 63 to 27 percent advantage over the GOP in party identification.


In 1992, more GOP voters were under age 50 (61 percent) than over 50 (38 percent). Today, 58 percent of Republican voters are 50 and older. Democratic voters are almost evenly divided between those under 50 and those 50 and older. The rate of aging among Democrats since 1992 (when 42 percent were 50 and older) has been less steep than within the GOP.

While older voters moved toward the GOP during President Obama’s term, young voters remain Democratic. Among voters ages 18 to 29 this year, 59 percent identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 35 percent Republican.


The share of voters with a college degree or more has increased by 10 points since 1992, from 23 percent to 33 percent.

Better-educated voters are increasingly identifying as Democrats and expressing liberal attitudes on a range of issues. Since 1992, the share of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters with at least a college degree has risen, from 21 percent to 37 percent. Among Republicans, 31 percent have at least a college degree, up slightly since 1992.


While Americans remain religious, the share of registered voters who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”—has increased from 8 percent in 1996 to 21 percent today.

In 1996, 1 in 10 Democratic voters was religiously unaffiliated; today that share has nearly tripled, to 29 percent. The share of Republicans not affiliating with a religion has also increased, but from 6 percent to 12 percent.