Majority-Minority Myths

Majority-Minority Myths

It’s time to let go of the belief that changing demographics will bring about a progressive America.

Outside a Latinos for Trump campaign rally in Orlando, Florida, in October 2020 (Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority, and the Expanding American Mainstream
by Richard Alba
Princeton University Press, 2020, 336 pp.

Dangerously Divided: How Race and Class Shape Winning and Losing in American
 Politics
by Zoltan L. Hajnal
Cambridge University Press, 2020, 362 pp.

The Case for Identity Politics: Polarization, Demographic Change, and Racial Appeals
by Christopher T. Stout
University of Virginia Press, 2020, 268 pp.

In a commencement address at the University of California, San Diego in 1997, President Bill Clinton spoke of a time when white people would no longer constitute a majority in the United States. In the decades since, the idea that growing diversity will bring about a “majority-minority” America in the near future has become a widespread belief across the ideological spectrum, propelled by periodic Census updates, like a report that 2013 marked the first year that more nonwhite babies had been born in the United States than white ones.

There are three major problems with this now-clichéd belief. First, it scares many white people, pushing their political stances toward the right. Numerous studies confirm that merely mentioning the demographic shift is enough to change their political views. As Ezra Klein has written, “The simplest way to activate someone’s identity is to threaten it.” Many white people interpret stories about the imminent reordering of the country’s racial and ethnic hierarchy as a threat.

Second, it leads Democrats astray. Divvying up the nation between whites and nonwhites implies a neat, fixed, and immutable ordering of a complex set of shifting racial and ethnic identities. The corollary—that a shared political identity should bind minorities to a leftist, emancipatory project against white oppression—induces complacency in Democratic Party organizing and policymaking realms, and ignores the varied ethnic and class backgrounds of those who comprise this broad,diverse population.

The 2020 election shook the premise that nonwhite voters shared a liberal political identity, with growing evidence of an across-the-board shift toward the GOP among Latinos and, to a smaller degree, African Americans. But evidence that the “browning of America” may not lead to progressive nirvana predated the election. Bush’s 2004 re-election bid was buoyed by his record performance among Latinos. Since then, between a quarter and a third of Latinos have voted for Republican presidential candidates despite the restrictionist turn in the party’s
immigration policies.

Which brings us to the third problem with the majority-minority claim: it’s empirically wrong.

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