Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An addendum on demographics and American politics

As the American presidential election seems all but certain to end with an Obama victory based on a wide victory in the Electoral College and near-parity in vote totals, I thought I'd revisit my posting earlier this evening about the Republican Party's significant problems in attracting voters outside of its core white Christian demographics by touching on the comments of Republican-leaning television commentator Bill O'Reilly about the effects of changing demographics on American elections. (I got the quotation from SEK of Lawyers, Guns and Money, here. If it is incomplete or incorrect, please, correct me!)

O’REILLY: All right. Because black birth rate is fairly stable, right?

MCMANUS: Proportionately, black birth rate and increases in their population will level out and be less significant in growth in that time period. I think Bill will be able to address the numbers better than I can, but…

O’REILLY: OK. And how about Asian? What’s the situation with that?

MCMANUS: Asian — we’re going to see a 213 percent increase, according to the Census Bureau projection, and so that will be a very rapid increase of the percentage of their population in the U.S. as well.

O’REILLY: All right. Now, Doctor, the Census Bureau really doesn’t tell us how this is going to affect the country. Do you have any theories on it?

WILLIAM FREY, PH.D., BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I really think what’s happening is going to be this phasing out or fading out of the white baby boom population. It is a 50-year time period we’re talking about… O’REILLY: Yes. We’ll all be dead. Thank God, right?

"We’ll all be dead. Thank God, right?"

All I can say is that these comments would indicate that O'Reilly, at least, has a profoundly depressing view of the prospects for his favoured party and his country. His preferred ideology and political party aren't capable of convincing people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Instead, they're simply a heritable (but not necessarily inherited?) belief system of a particular group?


Colin said...

Demographic changes do seem to matter in the US at the moment more than most countries, firstly because they are quite unstable due to high migration (both international and between US states), but secondly because in the last decade at least, it seems the US has developed a large population of 'yellow dog' voters who are almost impossible to win over, so actual changes in opinion matter less. Given how steady polls are in the US these days, I'm guessing the vast majority of the people who voted for Bush or Gore in 2000 have voted for the same party (or not voted at all) in presidentials ever since.

Richard said...

This is because of changes in the parties themselves. There was a time, not too far in the past, when partisanship wasn't as high because you had a mixture of centrists, mainliners, and hardliners in both parties. These days, if you look at the composition of the US House, Republican centrists have virtually been exterminated, the GOP is dominated by a large majority of hardliners (which is actually an unprecedented development; at no time in US history have hardliners formed a majority of an major American political party until the past few years), and in the Democratic party as well, centrists are a dying breed.

In some ways, the US is going back to the politics of its 19th century, when, antebellum, there was not much common ground between those who supported slavery and those who were against slavery, and postbellum, the party of rural small farmers could not find much to agree upon with the party of urban finance and industry (and in some states, 80-90% of the vote went to one party).

Another way to look at it is that the period post-1932 (when virtually everyone bought in to the New Deal consensus & and there were a ton of moderates in both parties) is anomalous, historically speaking.

Anonymous said...

You may note, however, that unlike slavery and bimetallism, there is no great issue that has a major impact on many residents of this country in different ways which explains this rise in partisanship these days. You are correct. I would tell you that this current partisanship is purely artificially made. Folks like Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck realized that they could gain power and profit by whipping up the right-wing of this country (what the elder Bush referred to as extra-chromosome conservativves) in to a frenzy with biased news and conspiracy theories via Fox News and talk radio. While this has helped the GOP open big inroads in to the white working class (which use to be solidly Democratic), it has also driven moderate/liberal and fact-informed Republicans (as well as minorities and women) straight in to the Democratic party (and increased partisanship on both sides, but particularly on the Right). Women and Asian-Americans split their support equally between the 2 parties in the US not so long ago.

Richard said...

BTW, that was, me, Richard, above.

Anyway, you should listen to American talk radio some time. Everything is emotions-driven, and the dominant emotions are fear and hate.

Colin said...

I wouldn't say centrists are a dying breed in the Democratic party. From my non-American perspective, the bulk of the Democrats in Congress and in presidential nominations are rather moderate, seeking largely to preserve the status quo with a few small changes. If anything the party has got less radical in recent decades. Leaders like FDR or even LBJ brought in much more radical changes than anything Clinton or Obama have attempted.

Maybe the difference is the rise of Hate FM, as you say.

Richard said...


At an absolute level, you're right; today's hardline Democrats, at least on economic issues, would have been mainstream or even centrists in the Democratic party of 50 years ago, while today's centrist Democrats are where Eisenhower Republicans were. Relative to where the center is in the US at any point in time, however, the number of centrist Democrats have also decreased. Here's a chart that shows that well:

Incidentally, the Democrats abandoning the left on economic issues (and becoming more tolerant on social issues) is also part of the reason why working class whites have left the Democratic party. However, those changes have also helped the Democrats gain among women, the young (especially young professionals and the educated), suburbanites, and Asian-Americans.

It's hard to imagine now, but the creative class voted GOP during the '50's.

BTW, talk radio is almost always on the AM dial in the US.

Jojo said...

The situation in the USA reminds me the situation i Israel except this is the complete opposite.
The left in Israel is built on "old white people", while the right is a coalition of Jews from non-European countries, immigrants, and religious people - and this coalition has a much higher birthrate than the left.
Arabs, who used to support the left, are now outside the game and anyway their birthrate is falling fast.

That's why the left is now trying something new - speaking about economics and social issues that maybe can speak to the core constituency of the right.
Apparently it won't work for the elections in January (you can never know of course).

best alternative investments said...

Until Republicans learn to attract Latinos, they will never win another presidential election in the States.

Richard said...

The demographic transition won't happen that fast. The GOP could still win in the near future if the Democrats screw up enough and/or the economy is terrible (and getting worse). Just look at 2010 (granted, those were off-year elections, but still...)

However, yes, the national GOP would have to break their fealty to the right-wing demagogues on talk radio and Fox News (and probably Grover Norquist as well) if they don't want to become a national version of the California GOP (anrgy, bitter, old, shrinking, white, and marginalized) everywhere outside of the South.

I don't think the point about the GOP becoming a regionalized party can be stressed fully enough. Romney got nearly half his national vote total (43%) from the South and border-South (Virginia, WV, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and all the states to the south of those).

However, even the growing parts of the South (along the Atlantic coast and Texas) are turning more Democratic. VA is already a swing state that leans Democratic. NC has become a swing state. FL is becoming like VA, and GA (while still not competitive) is becoming more Hispanic all the time. Texas is a tougher nut for the Democrats to crack as the Texas GOP actually tries to appeal to Hispanics rather than scapegoat them.

If the GOP keeps letting the wingnus run the asylum, they'll be reduced to the party of the (poor, underdeveloped) non-growing South and areas where cows outnumber humans.

Anonymous said...

Racialist voting patterns in America are a huge problem for representative democracy.

Consider: Blacks tend to be more religious and socially conservative and are greatly harmed in the job and housing market by Latin American immigration. And yet in these areas they are not represented at all by their party.

In a regime where people vote ethnically, there is no need for representation on the issues.

Dohsan said...

Well, African-Americans are smart enough to understand that the party they vote for doesn't contain large numbers of people who are appealed to by coded language that conjures up racialist fears (unlike the GOP).

The problem with dog whistles is that not only dogs can hear them. Not to mention that on economic issues, they have good reason to be aligned against the Republicans. Not to also mention that the business interests in the GOP (who typically run the party) are as pro-immigration as anyone.

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