A recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years: Trends in American Values: 1987-2012
As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when this series of surveys began, the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides.
While the survey is definitely worth reading, and offers many insights into Americans’ values, and implications for the forthcoming election, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of its findings—ethnic homogeneity versus diversity in the two political parties.
The survey used four categories, Non-Hispanic Whites, Non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics of Any Race, and Other. I have written previously, in a number of columns, about scientific problems and cultural confusions associated with these classifications--which are adapted from the 2010 census. For present purposes, however, let us accept them as givens and refer to them, as does the survey, as White, Black, Hispanic, and Other.
Here are the figures for 2012:
Republicans (24% of Americans): White 87%; Black 2%; Hispanic 6%; Other 4%
Democrats (32% of Americans): White 55%; Black 24%; Hispanic 13%; Other 7%
Independents (38% of Americans): White 67%; Black 7%; Hispanic 16%; Other 8%
The following are some more-or-less comparable figures for the country as a whole, from the 2010 census, to serve for reference purposes. 97% of respondents listed only one race. 72% of those living in the United States listed only white; and 13% listed only black; and 16% listed themselves as of Hispanic origin on a separate question.
One can make several observations about the survey numbers—for example, whites are underrepresented, and blacks are overrepresented among Democrats; and blacks are underrepresented among Independents. But for me, by far the most striking figures are the overrepresentation of whites and the dramatic underrepresentation of everyone else—including the virtual absence of blacks—among Republicans.
The survey offers twelve years of data, and a reasonable way of looking at the trends would be to say the following: while the country has been becoming more diverse, Democrats have been becoming more diverse, Independents have been becoming somewhat more diverse, and Republicans have pretty much stayed the same. Put another way, as the country has become more cosmopolitan, Republicans have remained provincial.
This interpretation is consistent with responses to the question about immigrants “The growing number of newcomers threaten traditional American values.” 60% of Republicans agree, compared to 39% of Democrats and 44% of Independents. And the results are similar for the item “It bothers me when I come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English.” 55% of Republicans agree, compared to 31% of Democrats and 41% of Independents.
Quite apart from all the other issues raised by the survey, I would ask the following question. What does it mean for America’s future when one of our two major political parties appears unable to adapt to the country’s changing social and cultural composition?
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