By Charles Derber
Monday, 31 December 2012
The prevailing narrative is that President Obama’s re-election and hopes for long-term Democratic Party control are rooted in a demographic revolution, in which Hispanics, African-Americans and other nonwhite minorities are becoming the new American majority. This view is not wrong, but it is incomplete and misleading. The deeper narrative is economic, pointing to a socio-economic transformation in which majorities of all races depend increasingly on government protection and public investment. The two narratives, while they agree on the demographic statistics, have different policy implications, with the current interpretation of the demographic story belying the deeper change that both parties must make.
Whites, currently 63 percent of the population, will become a minority by 2050, according to a November 7, 2012, Pew Research Center Report. Republicans, fearful of permanent minority status, are rethinking immigration policy as a way to appeal to Hispanic voters and other minorities, while also eyeing 2016 potential White House candidates such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants, and his mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, married to a Mexican-American and fluent in Spanish. Meanwhile, the Democrats consider moving immigration policy to the front burner to hold onto the Hispanic vote.
But this is where the reigning demographic story misleads. It suggests that minorities are voting identity politics, with dark-skinned candidates or immigration the key way to their hearts and ballot. And it focuses on policy toward minorities rather than toward whites, a misreading of how to win in the new America.
The economic narrative argues that minorities, like the majority of whites, while not at all indifferent to identity appeals and often promoting important identity politics agendas, are voting mainly their socio-economic interests, especially jobs, but also broader social government protections of education, health and the environment.
This interpretation is supported by The New York Times exit polling data showing that lower-income Americans of all colors supported President Obama at higher rates than higher-income voters. As shown by the Pew Report, economic logic – a strong need for government protection – helps explain why minorities, women and singles voted for Obama and have long expressed more support for an activist government than whites, men and married people.