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The Republican Party is not 2042-Compliant

August 13, 2012

The American population is getting more diverse.  In Ozzie and Harriet’s day, non-Hispanic whites accounted for 85 percent of Americans.  Today, they’re about 63 percent.  By 2050, non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority.

Already, non-Hispanic whites are a minority of American newborns.  In 2010, for the first time, non-Hispanic white babies accounted for less than half of all births.  This has been true in some states for some time, and four states plus Washington, D.C. are already “majority minority” – Hawaii (77.1 percent), the District of Columbia (64.7 percent), California (60.3 percent), New Mexico (59.8 percent) and Texas (55.2 percent).

As the non-Hispanic white majority shrinks, the Asian-American and Hispanic proportions are growing, while African-Americans are essentially holding steady. Those three groups constituted 15 percent of the population in 1960, but will total 51 percent in 2050.

Some estimate that the exact year that traditional minorities will collectively make up a majority of the American population will be 2042.  The marketing and advertising industry have turned this factoid into a slogan:  for instance, a Forbes headline recently asked, “Is Your Brand’s Marketing Strategy 2042-Compliant?”  Or, are you marketing effectively to the minorities who will shortly constitute the majority?

African-Americans have voted heavily Democratic for some time, and Latino voters have also leaned Democratic.  Asian-American voters have recently emerged as a significant Democratic voting bloc.  In 2008, 95 percent of African-Americans, 67 percent of Hispanics, and 62 percent of Asian-Americans voted for President Obama, according to exit polls – compared to just 43 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

If those percentages remain more or less constant, Democrats will find it progressively easier, and Republicans will find it harder, to win elections.

The Republican mainstream has carved out some strident anti-immigrant positions, just as immigration is reaching all-time highs.  The foreign-born share of the population is now about 12 percent, and is projected to surpass the previous high (set in 1890) of 14.8 percent in the 2020s.

In 2050, 33 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of Asian-Americans in this country will be first-generation immigrants.  In other words, for the growing Hispanic and Asian-American groups, immigration issues will remain important for decades to come.  Meanwhile, by 2050, 28 percent of the total American population will be second-generation Hispanic and Asian-American immigrants.  That means that, while new immigrants will keep the immigration issue on the front burner, the numbers of less recent immigrants, who are much more likely to be naturalized and registered to vote, will be booming.

The Republican “brand” appeals to a majority of non-Hispanic whites, but not to anything close to a majority of the other main ethnic groupings.  And it’s not just that the Republican “brand” hasn’t appealed to those groups; it sometimes seems that Republicans are determined to turn those groups away.

Republicans abandoned any serious effort to appeal to African-Americans when they adopted their Southern strategy in 1968, on the heels of Lyndon Johnson’s historic legislative achievements in civil rights.  Although George W. Bush made some inroads among Hispanic voters, the Republicans’ refusal to go along with his immigration proposals and their abiding hostility to the DREAM Act have reinvigorated the Hispanic preference for Democrats.

Asian-Americans are not only disproportionately recent Americans, they are also disproportionately urban.  Asian-Americans poll more pro-choice and pro-gay than Americans at large, and they are more likely to favor “big government.”  Republicans demonize all of the above.

But most importantly, I believe, the Republicans under Obama have demonized the “other.”  They send the message loud and clear, whether they realize it or not, that people who are Hispanic or non-white or immigrants or gay or poor are not respected, not equal, not legitimately American.  This message is a more powerful repellent even than their policies.

During the Obama presidency, a certain segment of white Americans have made no-compromise positions mandatory for Republican candidates, they have formed the Tea Party to “take back our country,” they have denied the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, and they have armed themselves to the teeth.  This is the reaction of a certain fearful segment of white Americans to the election of just one non-white president, even while white Americans remain a significant majority in the country.

As our country becomes increasingly Hispanic and non-white, we will elect more high officials from outside the shrinking pool of non-Hispanic white Americans.  If my understanding of the reaction to President Obama has anything to it at all, the fearful reaction will hardly moderate as 2042 approaches.  On the contrary, the stridency will feed on itself – for instance, because immigrants are overwhelmingly Hispanic and non-white, white hostility to immigration will deepen, driving pro-immigrant groups ever farther away from the Republican “brand.”  As the Republican base becomes more fearful, the Republican “brand” will become less 2042-compliant, not more.

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