Georgia’s changing demographics has become fodder in political circles about what those numbers could mean come November.
The talk focuses broadly on the population growth in the state and just who has been moving in. The Democrats’ idea: follow the Obama administration’s successful playbook and win over those folks with voter registration and turnout efforts to capture their party’s bid for U.S. Senate and governor.
We decided to check claims by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, an Atlanta Democrat who also heads a nonprofit focusing on voter registration, on the numbers involved.
"In Georgia, during the previous decade between Census counts, more than 1.5 million new neighbors set up homes in the state," Abrams wrote in the Huffington Post. The majority of those arrivals were minorities, she said.
In Georgia, race is often a good predictor of political affiliation. Racial minorities in the state tend to vote Democratic, according to experts.
With polls showing both the Senate and governor’s race as competitive, those numbers could matter, so we decided to take a look at how they stack up.
Abrams told us she got the numbers from the U.S. Census, the actual count of people living in the United States that the government takes every 10 years.
The primary focus of that numerical snapshot is to decide the number of seats each state will get in the U.S. House of Representatives. For that reason, the total count is quite reliable.
In 2000, Georgia had 8,186,453 people. A decade later, the count was 9,687,653. That’s almost exactly the 1.5 million Abrams cites to HuffPost.
More complicated is the question of minorities. The Census form specifically states that Hispanic origin is not race.
For that reason, most recent Census form asked two questions about race – identifiers such as white or black – and ethnicity, which includes the question about Latino or Hispanic origin.
Yet a growing share of Americans don’t pick a race category on the form, according to Census news releases. That results in figures that aren’t quite as refined, especially over time when the questions regarding race and ethnicity have changed somewhat.
Robert Bernstein, a Census spokesman in Washington, D.C., walked us through the numbers as the agency sees it.
Tucked into one table in both Census sets were population counts by race, and a separate breakout of those not considered Hispanic or Latino. "That is effectively the minority population," Bernstein said.
For Georgia, there were 3,057,772 non-white people in the state in 2000. By 2010, that number increased to 4,273,733.
That means 1.2 million of the 1.5 million new people in Georgia between Census counts were non-white – or 81 percent.
Abrams said her focus was meant to be the substantial numbers involved in the population and how that matches up with voter registration.
"The conversation is about engagement," Abrams aid. "There is an important philosophy of having all citizens engaged in the process."
Citizen is the key word. The Census counts all people – regardless of age, legal status or citizenship – living in the state. Voting, of course, is open only to citizens who are at least 18 years old.
That explains, in part, the other demographic reality: the majority of Georgia’s active voters, generally defined as someone who has voted in the past three years, are white.
Data from the Secretary of State’s office shows that, in May 2002, 72 percent of the state’s active voters were white. That number plunged to about 59 percent as of November, data shows. But the 2013 figures also show more than 323,000 new white voters.
That means the percentage of non-Hispanic whites is smaller than it had been, but even there, Georgia is seeing more voters, said Alan I. Abramowitz, an expert on American political demographics at Emory University.
"There is a lag between the changing demographic of the population and the changing of your electorate," Abramowitz said. "Both are definitely changing, that is true, but not at the same rate."
To wrap it up, Stacey Abrams hit the mark with her numbers. The significance of those changes, though, don’t immediately translate into similar shifts in the makeup of the state’s voters.
If the point is to identify and register more would-be voters, more refined numbers about citizenship and age would be needed.
For that reason, we rate Abrams’ statement as Mostly True.