Is Demography Still Destiny?

A friend who is aware of my interest in the link between demographic change and political change slipped me this article, Why Demography Does Not Equal Destiny.  You don’t hear much these days about demographics in politics since last November 9th, other than the talk about that new group that politicos recently discovered; the white working class.  Who are these guys and where did they come from?

So it’s no surprise there is a lot of handwringing among the Demographics=Destiny crowd.  The article summarizes its main points:

  1. Demographic change is not evenly dispersed in states and voting districts throughout the country.
  2. Voting behavior is not static. Voters more readily change which party they support than the demography-is-destiny models anticipated.
  3. Despite the large change in the demographic composition of the electorate, most voters still do not self-identify as liberals. In fact, liberals remain bronze medalists in the ideological breakdown of the electorate—ever since the question was first asked decades ago.

I don’t disagree with the generalities of these points.  In fact I share them to a degree and wrote about the snags and hiccups on the way to permanent Democratic rule over two years ago. Most voters are not liberal, at least they are not self-identified ones, and the purging of the moderate wing that began in 2010 has left the Democratic Party with few moderates for mainstream Americans to identify with.  Political decisions matter too, and President Obama’s decision to go make Obamacare, rather than “comprehensive immigration reform” his first massive push doomed his party to an easy opening for attack.  The Tea Party sprang up to fight Obamacare and the political cost for moderate blue dog Democrats to vote for it was the loss of their seats, leaving a smaller, and more left leaning Democratic Party in its wake.

So for the past few years, the Democratic Party has been hurt more by stupid political decisions than helped by Demographic change.  Nobody told them that they had to make a granny with 30 years of criminal investigations and corruption behind her the party’s nominee.


Even though the Democrats nominated the worst candidate possible she still won the popular vote by 3 million votes.  That really brings truth to the old saying about yellow dog Democrats; they would vote for a dog if it was running on the Democratic ticket. But that goes to Point One; demographic change is not evenly dispersed.  No it isn’t.  Particularly when you consider that the Hillary’s popular vote lead is entirely attributable to California.  Without California, Trump won the popular vote by 1.4 million votes.  That’s the power of demographics.

California is the textbook case, and the canary in the coal mine on unbridled Demographic change. The Center for Immigration Studies did a study comparing California from 1970 to 2008. Just a few observations:

Legal and illegal immigrants went from 9 to 27%.

Went from 7th most educated workforce to 50th (that’s dead last for the California educated!).

Went from 25th in income inequality to 6th.

Conclusion?  If you try to replicate Latin America in California, don’t be surprised if you get something that looks very much like…Latin America; high income inequality, with a very wealthy and educated elite with a large poor and uneducated mass of people, and of course, one party rule. California has successfully duplicated the Mexican model. And California, which has for decades been the early adopter of future American trends, shows us what the entire country will look like in a few decades.

So yes, other things matter too, not just demographics, however as California demonstrates, all things being equal, over time demographic change is probably the largest single determinate.  Demographically speaking, as Ann Coulter pointed out, “If the same country that voted in 1980 had voted in 2012, Romney would have won a bigger landslide than Reagan did.”

In the Trump, Black Swan era, it’s easy to dismiss demographic change as having an effect on our politics, but there it is, chugging along, year after year, turning the United States into California.




3 thoughts on “Is Demography Still Destiny?

  1. Some rambling thoughts.

    1. As CA goes so goes the nation may have been true when the pop. of CA was mostly white, but now that it’s gone Hispanic, the rest of the country (or parts of it) will purposely diverge from CA. Unless what you’re saying is, “If the rest of the country becomes Hispanic”?

    2. I have a general question about demographics. Couldn’t whites turn around the trend with just a few changes here & there? Don’t get me wrong, I think the trends are terrible. From 1790 to 1990, the US was anywhere from 80% to 88% white. From 1990 the drop in white share is precipitous. But you’ve still got a lot of young white people, whites being a smaller share of a larger population. If whites could bring up their birthrate just a bit above replacement, while bringing down the others to a bit below, things could change dramatically.

    Black Americans for example are about 45M. That’s the size of a medium sized European country. If their birthrates dropped to just below replacement level, what would happen to their population in one generation? I don’t know but:

    “Total fertility rates for Black non-Hispanic women in the U.S. were above the replacement level in 2008, but have fallen below that number with 1.88 children expected over the course of a lifetime. Expected lifetime births have also fallen for White non-Hispanic women from 1.91 in 2007 to 1.75 in 2013. U.S. White non-Hispanic births have been below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman for decades.”

    Black women are now below replacement level. So are white women, but with a larger population, the population decline would be slower. I see a population crash coming for African-Americans. Am I wrong?


    • 1. It’s not so much that the rest of the country becomes Hispanic is that it will become slightly more Hispanic and more everything else. Virginia is now a blue state and Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida are trending that way. They are not becoming California but you don’t have to in order to tip the electoral balance one way or the other. I would say as far as demography goes, those trends are going one way.

      2. Since so much of what we call “white” are more or less a social construct, it could flip either way quickly. One of the reasons I oppose the concept of a polling and census option of “Hispanic” is because there really isn’t such a thing. If you consider white Hispanics as “white,” then the 2044 demographic turning point vanishes into the next century. Middle Easterners are tired of being considered white and want their own census category, so if they suddenly become “non-white,” that changes things too. As to your question, I don’t think an increase in “white” fertility is likely in the near future, but simply by shutting immigration to a trickle for a few generations (like the 1924-1965 pause) would allow all of these more or less white groups to assimilate as white. It’s happened before to Italians, Poles, and Greeks. Muslims, of any ethnic or racial group, are more problematic. Not much assimilationist history to compare to.

      As is usually the case, Blacks are in their own category. All of the census predictions running out to the next 50 years or so have the US Black population relatively stable as a percentage of the population. They are about 13% now and will be about 13% decades from now. I don’t know if that considers the drop in fertility rates that you linked to however.


      • ” All of the census predictions running out to the next 50 years or so have the US Black population relatively stable as a percentage of the population. They are about 13% now and will be about 13% decades from now. I don’t know if that considers the drop in fertility rates that you linked to however.”

        I don’t think it does. I think they always assume slightly above replacement level birth rates among blacks. My point is, a slight uptick in white birthrates and a slight downtick in black birthrates could have profound implications. I really think there are too many unknowns here.

        The overall trends in the US aren’t good, I agree.


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