MAY 20, 2014
Three unlikely sources are providing qualified encouragement to Republicans who are either openly or covertly committed to a campaign strategy that focuses on white turnout, as opposed to seeking votes from Hispanics and African Americans.
The first source of this qualified encouragement is an academic study — “More Diverse Yet Less Tolerant?” — that explores what happens to racial and ethnic attitudes when you present white voters with census findings that show that whites will be in the minority in the United States by 2042.
The second source is a related study by the same authors — “On the Precipice of a ‘Majority-Minority’ America” — that explores how the “salience of such racial demographic shifts affects White Americans’ political-party leanings and expressed political ideology.”
The third source is a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit think tank. The survey measured the percentage of whites who are “bothered” by the “idea of” an “America where most of the people are not white.”
These studies present a challenge to those who have declared that the Republican Party must move away from the “white strategy” – formerly known as the “Southern Strategy.” That strategy has been the de facto Republican approach to elections since the mid-1960s. It was initially very successful, but over the past decade it has only been effective in low-turnout, midterm elections.
Now, partly in response to the Obama victories of 2008 and 2012, Resurgent Republic, a Republican organization that includes a segment of the party establishment and some of the party’s Bush-era elder statesmen, denounced the “white strategy” as “the route to political irrelevance in national elections. Mitt Romney won a landslide among white voters, defeating Barack Obama by 59 to 39 percent. In the process he won every large segment of white voters, often by double-digit margins: white men, white women, white Catholics, white Protestants, white old people, white young people. Yet that was not enough to craft a national majority. Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters. For the fifth time in the past six presidential elections, Republicans lost the popular vote. Trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing political proposition.”
Maureen A. Craig, a doctoral candidate, and Jennifer A. Richeson, a professor of psychology, both at Northwestern, have written two papers that ask questions that are relevant to this internal party debate. The authors do not endorse such tactics but their work suggests that there are in fact ways to intensify white suspicion of and hostility toward minorities and immigrants. These tactics offer the potential to shift voters to the right, into the Republican column.
For their first paper, Craig and Richeson conducted a series of experiments that tested how whites respond to census data projecting that minorities will become the majority in the United States by 2042.
What did they uncover? That “exposure to the changing demographics evokes the expression of greater explicit and implicit racial bias.” One group of respondents was shown evidence of the demographic trends and another was not. Those who saw the evidence “expressed more negative attitudes toward Latinos, Blacks, and Asian-Americans” than participants who were not shown the evidence. The authors concluded that “rather than ushering in a more tolerant future, the increasing diversity of the nation may instead yield intergroup hostility.”
Really? It's almost as if the problem is diversity in general, not the unique evilosity of straight white men.
Craig and Richeson’s second study, “On the Precipice of a ‘Majority-Minority’ America,” published last month, is even more directly relevant to the strategic choices facing Republicans. The authors found that whites – whether they called themselves liberals, centrists or conservatives — all moved to the right when exposed to the information about the approaching minority status of whites. This “suggests that the increasing diversity of the nation may engender a widening partisan divide,” Craig and Richeson write.
These findings led the two authors to observe that the future of the contemporary Republican Party may not be as bleak as some say. “Whites may be increasingly likely and motivated to support conservative candidates and policies in response to the changing racial demographics,” they write. “These results suggest that presumptions of the decline of the Republican Party due to the very same changing racial demographics may be premature.”
Responding to my emailed questions, Craig wrote, “Overall, making this racial shift salient could bring more moderate White Americans into the Republican Party, as well as increase turnout among White Americans who already consider themselves Republicans. “
Like I've been saying for going on a decade and a half, if you prefer the politics of New Hampshire to the politics of Mississippi or Chicago or Bell, CA, then you should prefer the demographics of New Hampshire.
They are a package deal.