The election of the next president of the United States formally starts on Feb. 1 in Iowa. One of the nation’s leading demographers says people of color will play a key role in determining who will be in the White House in 2017.

William Frey, a Brookings Institute demography scholar, said President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 can be attributed in large part to the support of racial minorities. “The combined minority vote gave the president net advantages of 21.2 million and 23.5 million over his Republican rivals U.S. Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney,” Frey said. “And in the Electoral College, minorities were solely responsible for his winning key swing states that put him over the top-accounting for nearly one-third of his total Electoral College votes each time. That included once Republican Southern states Virginia and North Carolina in 2008.”

Frey noted that North Carolina is becoming home to a booming population of Latinos and Blacks returning to the South to live. He also said that Mountain West states such as Nevada and Colorado are increasingly becoming more racially diverse.

Dr. John Bullock, a political scientist at Towson University, said he is seeing in Maryland what Frey is talking about. “You can see lots of people of color in Baltimore City and Baltimore County and even in Howard County,” Bullock said. “Montgomery County has more people of color and Prince George’s County’s color population is growing even more. A lot of this growth is the result of an expanding Hispanic population.”

Frey has voiced concerns about the move by some states to restrict voting but thinks those initiatives are ultimately futile.

“The passage of state measures which effectively restrict voting for some groups comes as the nation’s racial minority populations-Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others-are showing increasing electoral clout,” Frey said. “Yet, restrictive voting provisions such as stringent voter ID laws and limits to early voting and voting hours in heavily minority communities will not adversely impact voting in the way the provisions’ authors intended. Over the long haul, the effects of such attempts to suppress the voters will pale in comparison to the larger demographic sweep of diversity that will shape the nation’s civic decision-making.”

Frey said that Black turnout in 2012 by a percentage exceeded White turnout for the first time in a presidential election and that 95 percent of the country’s growth comes from racial minorities.

Bullock agrees with Frey’s point that minority voters can no longer be ignored by presidential candidates. ​”America is on track to become a majority-minority nation by 2050,” Bullock said. “It is important for all of the presidential candidates to reach out to minorities such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and even women. Those candidates that don’t reach out to those groups will have problems winning a presidential election.”

​Frey does warn, however, that those suppression efforts may work in the near future. “In the near term-meaning the next couple presidential election cycles-voting restrictions that disproportionately impact minorities could be costly just as they are beginning to find their voice in the political arena,” he said.

Organizations such as the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights under Law, have mounted legal challenges to voter identification and election law changes in states such as North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Frey said the 2012 election was a defining event in the nation’s presidential politics and the results of it shouldn’t be ignored by presidential candidates of either party. “It is unknown whether the 2016 Democratic candidate, be it Hillary Clinton or someone else, will generate the strong enthusiasm among minority voters that Obama did,” Frey said. “But the 2012 election made clear that the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot unimpaired is especially important in this time of rapid demographic change. Although Democrats ostensibly will be the near term winners of the unencumbered political participation of minorities, Republicans cannot afford to alienate Hispanic, Black, and Asian voting blocs that are a growing part of the nation’s citizenry as well as its electorate.”

Bullock said that Republicans should take note of what Frey is saying. “The Republican Party cannot win in the future if it is the party of just White males,” he said.