Douglas County lags state in demographic shift

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Demographics in Douglas County may be shifting, but ever so slowly. Those slight changes are enough to give county Democrats confidence they someday will gain traction here as they have in adjacent counties.

It will be a hard-won battle. No Democratic presidential candidate has won in Douglas County since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And Barack Obama garnered just 36 percent of this fall's vote in Douglas County, where only one-fifth of registered voters identify themselves as Democrats.

From 2000 to 2010, Census figures show the percentage of Latinos, Asians, blacks and households led by single women — groups that historically vote Democratic — has inched upward.

Five percent of the county's residents identified themselves as Latinos in 2000; in 2010, that number was nearly 8 percent. The Asian population increased from 2.5 to 4 percent, blacks from 0.41 to 1.4 percent, and households led by women with no husband present increased from 5.7 to 7.1 percent.

With the exception of Asians, those minority numbers are fall smaller than in the state, where the Latino population now stands at 21 percent, blacks at 4.3 percent and women-led households at nearly 10 percent. Asians make up 3 percent of the state total.

But demographers believe Latinos will make up almost one-third of the country's population by 2050, a shift that's predicted to have profound political impact.

Though 2010 Census numbers show the county is nearly 92 percent Caucasian — a mere 1.2 percentage-point decrease from the 93 percent recorded in 2000 — local Democrats believe at least some of that seismic national shift surely will radiate into Douglas County.

“The numbers are changing,” said Sue Zloth, vice chairwoman of the Douglas County Democrats. “We see it coming, absolutely. Is it going to take two years, five years, 10 years or 20 years? That's the question.

“Look at Jefferson County. They were kind of in the same place Douglas County is roughly 15 years ago.”

Voters in neighboring Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, both once strongly Republican, supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Though Douglas County Republicans were dismayed by statewide losses, they stand strong here. Through a well-coordinated effort, party leaders say they got 95 percent of their active, registered members to the polls Nov. 6.

And they continue to dominate the county's political landscape. About 47 percent of the county's registered voters identify themselves as Republicans, 20 percent as Democrats and 32 percent unaffiliated, according to the Douglas County clerk and recorder.

“Those are challenging numbers to work with when you're looking at countywide races,” Zloth said. “But we feel there are pockets of the county where that's changing. We're very aware of that and will certainly continue to focus our efforts there as we look at the rest of the county to change.”

The clerk and recorder's office isn't seeing that change yet.

“There was a period of time, maybe two or more years ago, when the Republicans were slightly more than 50 percent (of registered voters),” said Jack Arrowsmith, Douglas County clerk and recorder. “That has over time reduced to a certain extent down to the 47 percent we're at now. The Democrats haven't grown really dramatically during that time, but we've seen an uptick in the unaffiliated.”

Local Republicans believe many Latinos fit well in their conservative fold.

“We certainly want to welcome them,” said Marsha Haeflein, president of the Douglas County Republican Women. “We welcome anyone who agrees with less government and lower taxes. The Hispanic community has a lot of the same values and principles the Republicans have. Most Hispanics are Catholics. They don't want the government in the churches.”

Zloth sees things differently.

“The Republican Party seems to have closed ranks and is inclusive of white, upper-middle class conservatives,” she said. “That's not what this nation, this state, or this county looks like.”

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