2012 Elections Result in Diversity ‘Firsts’

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Nov 13, 2012
Americans have been celebrating many “firsts” following the Nov. 6, 2012, elections:
  • Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, will become the first member of Congress of the Hindu faith.
  • Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, will be the first openly gay U.S. senator.
  • Mazie Hirono of Hawaii will be the first female Asian-American senator.
  • And, on Nov. 12, 2012, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) was elected the first openly bisexual member of Congress after a hotly contested race.

Tammy Duckworth’s election is notable for several “firsts”: She is the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress in Illinois, the first congresswoman born in Thailand, and the first female disabled military veteran in Congress.

Previous election-related firsts included:

  • In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest man ever to be elected president of the United States. He was also the first Catholic to become president.
  • In 1966, Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts became the first black Senator elected by popular vote.

Minorities Made the Difference in 2012 Election

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have been breaking through a wide range of barriers to inclusion, as SHRM noted in a 2011 article on LGBT firsts, and that momentum carried through the 2012 elections.

As SHRM reported in an article posted Nov. 7, 2012, three states—Maryland, Maine and Washington—passed laws providing the right for same-sex couples to marry. In addition, Minnesota voters turned down a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a civil rights organization focused on equality for LGBT people, played an active role in various campaigns and ballot initiatives. The organization has dubbed President Obama as its “ally-in-chief.”

“When the history books are written, 2012 will be remembered as the year when LGBT Americans won decisively at the ballot box,” said Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, in a news release published on election night. “Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow morning we get up and get back to work.”

Latino voters played a key role in re-electing President Obama, according to “Latino Voters in the 2012 Election, an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center. Latinos selected President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney at a rate of 71 percent to 27 percent, Pew reported.

Moreover, the Pew exit poll analysis found that, as a group, nonwhite voters made up 28 percent of the nation’s electorate, up from 26 percent in 2008.

Minority groups are on track to become a majority of the U.S. population by 2050, according to “A Milestone En Route to a Majority Minority Nation,” an analysisreleased by the Pew Social & Demographics Trends project after the election. The Hispanic share of the U.S. population could be as high as 29 percent by 2050, Pew announced, up from 17 percent in 2012.

Religion was a factor in the election, as well. Amy Sullivan, a former TIME writer and editor who has covered religion and politics, tweeted: “New tally of non-Jewish religious minorities in Congress: 1 Hindu, 3 Buddhists, 2 Muslims, untold # of closeted ‘nones.’ ”

“Nones” are individuals who claim no religious affiliation, a demographic group that is on the rise in the U.S.

Even though the president won re-election, he “lost support among most religious groups as defined by the exit polls,” according to a Huffington Post article published Nov. 7, 2012. “The biggest drop came in the Jewish vote, which fell 9 points, from 78 percent in 2008 to 69 percent this year,” the author noted. “Forty percent of white Catholics supported Obama, compared to 47 percent when he beat Sen. John McCain, and 20 percent of white born-again Christians and evangelicals backed the president, compared to 26 percent the last time.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil liberties and advocacy organization, said in a statement released Nov. 7, 2012, that the organization “welcomed the rejection of Islamophobic candidates by voters nationwide.” In the statement, CAIR noted that Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who has said Islam is not a religion but a “totalitarian theocratic political ideology” was defeated, as was Republican Charlie Fuqua of Arkansas, “a candidate who has advocated the deportation of all Muslims.”

The impact of voters with disabilities is unclear in this election. The National Council on Disability (NCD), in collaboration with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and EIN SOF Communications Inc., is conducting a survey on voter accessibility to learn more about the Election Day experiences of voters with disabilities.

Workplace Implications

For more than two decades, diversity and inclusion professionals have been alerting business leaders about the impact of demographic change. What the election results make clear is this: Demographic impact is no longer coming—it is here.

As for HR’s role, HRC spokesperson Paul Guequierre shared this suggestion in an e-mail to SHRM Online: “Corporate America must continue leading the charge for workplace fairness, and HR professionals must implement and enforce protections for LGBT employees, and ensure all policies and practices are inclusive.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Diversity’s Impact on the Presidential Election, SHRM Online Diversity Area,October 2012

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