The fractured politics of a browning America

How a more diverse America makes you feel
is the core division in our political and

cultural fights right now.

But to see why, you need to know how we’re
changing, and how a changing country changes


Here’s the big picture.

The U.S. is at a demographic tipping point
– a genuinely historic moment.

2013 was the first year that a majority of
US infants under the age of 1 were nonwhite.

By 2016, white deaths had outnumbered white
births, but America’s overall population,

it’s not expected to decrease.

And that’s because the Black, Asian and
especially Latino and mixed-race populations

they’re also growing.

They’re growing fast.

By 2045, the Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic
whites will be no longer be a majority.

And also that foreign-born residents are going
to make up a record share of the population.

So when you show people these numbers about
how America is changing, what goes through

their heads, what is their response?

I think people are hearing these
changes as somehow a fundamental remaking

of what America is, at least a lot of people
are hearing it, and some of them are excited

about it and some of them are not so excited.

We see on average white Americans when they
read about this majority-minority shift becoming

more politically conservative.

Jennifer Richeson is a psychologist
who studies how people react to demographic


She won a MacArthurGenius Grant for this work.

And what she’s found helps explain a lot
of what we’re seeing.

For instance, when white political independents
who live in the West were told that whites

were no longer a majority in California, they
became 11 percentage points more likely to support the

Republican Party.

That is a huge change.

It’s important to say, this is a human reaction
to demographic change, not just a white one.

When presented with similar data on the growing
numbers of Hispanics, Asian-Americans shifted

towards more conservative views, Black Americans
shifted towards more conservative views.

Being told your group is shrinking

or that it’s losing power, it’s scary
for anyone.

Losing numbers are associated with
losing status, losing power, losing currency

in the culture.

There are lots of studies like these,
but the one I find myself thinking about the

most was done by Harvard’s Ryan Enos.

What we did is we sent these two Spanish
speakers out to catch a train at a certain

time every day over a period of days.

We sent out research assistants and they surveyed
these people waiting on the train.

And that little exposure was enough to move
these attitudes in this survey.

They’re more likely to say we should send
those children of immigrants back to Mexico.

They’re more likely to say we should decrease
immigration from Mexico and they’re even more

likely to endorse that English should be the
official language of the United States.

We saw a version of this in the election
then too, right?

So in States and even in small areas
of States in these counties, where the Spanish

population changed very rapidly – we saw that
these voters had moved towards supporting

Donald Trump.

And a lot of them actually looked like they
were these people who had previously been


So here, then, is what we know: Even
gentle, unconscious exposure to reminders

that America is diversifying — and particularly
to the idea that America is becoming a majority-minority

nation — it pushes folks toward more conservative
policy opinions, towards more support of the

Republican Party.

So what happens when those reminders aren’t

Massive demographic changes
have been foisted upon the American people.

And they’re changes that, none of us ever
voted for and most of us don’t like.

Our Christian heritage will be cherished,
protected, defended like you’ve never seen


When Obama was elected in 2008, there
was all this talk of America moving into a

post-racial moment.

But the mere existence of Obama’s presidency
made a lot more of politics about how you

felt about race.

It had this effect on health care, the stimulus
package, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party.

Hell, it even affected how people felt about
Obama’s dog.

So the dog is is kind of a fun experiment
on a serious topic.

Both Teddy Kennedy, a well-known liberal Democrat,
and Barack Obama have the same dog.

Their two dogs are actually related Portuguese
water dogs.

So let’s see how people respond to these dogs
when you tell one that it’s Ted Kennedy and

one that it is Barack Obama’s.

What happens is that when you tell people it’s Barack
Obama’s racial liberals like the dog more

racial conservatives like the dog less.

Obama polarizes more because of who he is
rather than what he says and does.

And so Obama goes through great lengths in both
campaigns to try to tamp down racial divisions

to not talk about race. When he does talk about
race, he does so in a message of personal


And there was something real here.

A few decades ago a multiracial voter base, it
couldn’t drive American politics like it

can now.

Obama won in 2012 with only 39 percent of
the white vote — previous Democratic candidates,

they lost elections in big ways with a lot
more support by whites.

But by 2016, Trump also proved that a candidate
who is explicitly talking to white fears about

race could win.

The Republicans now have a temptation
to explicitly appeal to race.

And you’re seeing this throughout Republican
primaries in the 2018 cycle and you’re seeing

the reverse on the Democratic side.

Abolish ICE as a good example.

That is a policy that Democrats would not
have been on board with in the 1990s but their

bases have moved and so the incentives have
moved as well.

Now to say American politics is in
for turbulence is not to say we are in for

dissolution or civil war.


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