The relationship between identity and politics is complicated
By Scott Sumner
Back in 1976, I drove from Wisconsin to the Canadian Rockies. In North Dakota I drove past endless miles of wheat farms, with some sunflower farms thrown in. The countryside looked much the same after crossing the border into Saskatchewan, Canada.
But one thing changes dramatically at the border. Just south of the border the farmers tend to vote for right wing candidates that are strongly opposed to Obamacare. To the north, the farmers vote for candidates that support Medicare for all. A system that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would love.
A person’s political views can never be understood in isolation, only in the context of the broader society in which they are embedded. Based on numerous comments that I’ve seen in the press, I don’t believe that either party understands the role of “identity” in politics. Republicans sometimes suggest that their party would have won states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan if not for the votes of cities with large black populations, such as Detroit, Philadelphia or Milwaukee. Democrats suggest that America will gradually become a country where a majority of the population is “people of color” and that this will help their party in the long run. Both are wrong.
If having lots of black voters made a country more left wing, then you’d expect America to be more left wing than Canada, and you’d expect the Deep South to be the most left wing part of America. What both parties miss is that the existence of racial minorities changes the voting behavior of white voters.
There’s very little evidence that a majority of the population will ever become non-white, because the category “white” is so fluid. Watching the NBA draft on Wednesday, I was struck by how many of the first round draft picks came from bi-racial families. Admittedly this is a skewed sample that is not representative of the broader population. But both Hispanics and Asians intermarry at a surprisingly high rate. My Asian wife gave birth to a daughter that our society views as white.
Race won’t go away, but there is no realistic prospect of whites becoming a minority in the US in the foreseeable future. Reason magazine reports that one Washington school district has already declared that Asian-Americans are white:
One school district in Washington state has evidently decided that Asians no longer qualify as persons of color.
In their latest equity report, administrators at North Thurston Public Schools—which oversees some 16,000 students—lumped Asians in with whites and measured their academic achievements against “students of color,” a category that includes “Black, Latinx, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Multi-Racial Students” who have experienced “persistent opportunity gaps.”
Expect much more of this in the future.
Then there is the “Latino” population:
Though not everyone in the Rio Grande Valley self-identifies as Tejano, the descriptor captures a distinct Latino community—culturally and politically—cultivated over centuries of both Mexican and Texan influences and geographic isolation. Nearly everyone speaks Spanish, but many regard themselves as red-blooded Americans above anything else. And exceedingly few identify as people of color. (Even while 94 percent of Zapata residents count their ethnicity as Hispanic/Latino on the census, 98 percent of the population marks their race as white.) Their Hispanicness is almost beside the point to their daily lives.
It is foolish to use ethnic identity to predict the future course of politics.