Thursday, November 8, 2012

Demography and the election

I'm still working through some of the implications of the election, although cautious about drawing conclusions too fast. Perhaps the most widespread immediate explanation is that Republicans can't win now because of changing demographics, especially more Latinos.

It's not actually clear that this explains this election, at any rate. According to RealClearPolitics, the absolute numbers of minority votes is likely to have hardly risen at all once postal ballots are counted and final results are in. The big difference this time is five million fewer white voters turned up at the polls. Obama did not suffer as much disaffection from disappointed liberal constituencies like students, but many whites seemed disaffected with Romney but unwilling to vote for Obama. I think this is not yet proven yet , but the data bears watching. And in any case, I think immigration reform is exaggerated as a means to Latino votes. Poorer working-class Latinos are likely to vote Democratic for a generation or two, no matter what Republicans do.

Megan McCardle doubts talk of the emerging democratic majority is justified, partly because we've been hearing it since the 1990s and it has not stopped GOP blowouts like 2010, and partly because the Democratic coalition itself is likely to fracture. Most Latinos are white, and could behave like the many Irish and Italian Catholics who fled the party since Reagan. There could also be massive conflicts between unions and other parts of the Democratic coalition.

Don't take this for a "Hey, GOP, everything's fine! Don't you go changing!" I've been saying for years that the GOP has run tax cuts out as a campaign plank--indeed, they're now over the cliff and about to plunge while Roadrunner chortles. .. . And they've now nominated two candidates who have put forward almost nothing that couldn't be found in Reagan's 1980 platform. The party desperately needs some new ideas to sell to the American public.

But I am highly skeptical that last night means they've gone into some sort of permanent decline. It was a close election in which Obama lost states that he carried in 2012. The Democratic bench is very weak--the current leading candidates to succeed Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, will be 69 and 74 in 2016. And Obama is going to have to preside over some very, very tough choices. We can't borrow a trillion dollars a year for another four years. Nor can we get all the money from Republican constituencies; they just don't have enough of the stuff. Whoever's ox Obama chooses to gore will probably be a considerably less enthusiastic coalition member come 2016.
This is probably true.

You could have argued the traditional Yankee Calvinists were supplanted in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, and much of the American Protestant mainstream by Catholic and Jewish immigration in the early twentieth century. All are now lumped together as "white" by the liberal press. This has been going on a long time, and assimmilation tends to grind away the differences over time. The Democratic Party tends to cater to the less assimilated, but that is historically a moving target.

There is a much more worrying possibility, though, as well. John O'Sullivan writes in National Review:

But it would be false comfort (and the kind of irresponsible optimism I detest) not to mention a darker possibility. That possibility is that whites will develop a defensive minority consciousness in response both to their statistically weaker position.

That has happened before where majorities have become minorities, and it is a “rational” response (so to speak) to this change in their condition. When their collective power was numerically unassailable, they felt able to extend generous concessions to other groups. When they feel threatened, they defend every item of privilege and resent every loss. [..]

The late Sam Huntington warned in his fine book Who Are We? that a racial concept of American identity might gain ground in the circumstances of America’s whites losing their majority status. I didn’t buy this explanation at the time. I still think it is somewhere down in the low teens of possibility. And the spread of intermarriage is one hopeful defense against it. But it cannot be dismissed entirely and thus deserves a mention alongside the sunnier prospects.

America works as a multiethnic society precisely because in principle we believe that ethnicity is less important than what unites us. E pluribus unum. An alignment along largely ethnic lines would be potentially disastrous. Look at Yugoslavia or Nigeria or Northern Ireland or the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire or the current Middle East , such as Syria, for where that leads. Diversity can quickly turn into conflict in the wrong circumstances.

The melting pot made ethnicity less important in the past. A racial spoils system could enflame differences if the stakes - i.e. the whole future of the country - are as high as the liberal press claims.

I said before the election the left often prefers the romantic dream that turns to darkness. History offers many examples of instances where changing demographics produces resistance and conflict, not a liberal paradise. Liberals would be much better off emphasizing differences of ideas as the basis for political coalitions, not ethnicity or race. And everyone would be better off thinking about what is good for the country as a whole, not particular sectional interests.



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