WASHINGTON – Last week’s U.S. elections drove home trends that have been embedded in the fine print of birth and death rates, immigration statistics and census charts for years: America is rapidly growing more diverse.

Nonwhites made up 28 percent of the electorate this year, compared with 20 percent in 2000. Much of that growth is coming from Hispanics.

The trend has helped President Barack Obama for two elections in a row.

Obama captured a commanding 80 percent of the growing ranks of nonwhite voters in 2012, just as he did in 2008. Republican Mitt Romney won 59 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

White men are an ever-shrinking slice of the electorate and of America at large. They made up 34 percent of the electorate this year, down from 46 percent in 1972.

“We are mid-passage in a century-long journey from the middle of the last century, when we were nearly a 90 percent white nation, to the middle of this coming century, when we will be a majority-minority nation,” said Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center.

In the past year, minority babies outnumbered white newborns for the first time in U.S. history. By midcentury, Hispanics, blacks, Asians and multiracial people combined will become the majority of the U.S.

The changing electorate has huge implications for public policy and politics.

For one thing, immigration overhaul suddenly seems a lot more important.

The role of government is key as well. Sixty percent of white voters think it should do less. But 58 percent of Hispanics think the government should do more, as do 73 percent of blacks, exit polls show.

“I trust the government to take care of us,” said Alicia Perez, a 31-year-old immigration attorney in Texas. “I don’t trust the Republican Party to take care of people.”

Among voters under 30 years old this year, only 58 percent are white. Among senior voters, 87 percent are white.

“Both parties are getting the message that this is a new age and a new America,” said Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey. “Finally, the politics is catching up with the demography.”

The Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, was happy to point out that for the first time in history, more than half the members of her caucus next year will be women, black, Hispanic or Asian. She said it “reflects the great diversity and strength of our nation.”

The Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, whose caucus is far more white and male, said Republicans need to learn to “speak to all Americans _ you know, not just to people who look like us and act like us.”

All sides know the demographic trends are sure to become more pronounced.

Since 2000, the Hispanic and Asian populations have grown by more than 40 percent, fueled by increased immigration as well as more births.

Currently, Hispanics are the largest minority group and make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 12 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Asians. Together minorities now make up more than 36 percent of the population.

“The minorities will vote,” said Frey. “The question is will their vote be split more across the two parties than it was this time?”

For both Republicans and Democrats, he said, the 2012 election is a wake-up call that will echo through the decades.

Associated Press

AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.