The idea that demography is political destiny is not new. Peter Brimelow and Edwin Rubenstein warned of its dangers in the pages of National Review in the 1990s. Steve Sailer later argued that Republicans would fare better by targeting white voters.
The problem with these observations was not their accuracy, but their audience. The GOP establishment and donor elites had little interest in such thinking until Donald Trump’s breakthrough in 2016. But what happens when Trump leaves office? Will the GOP return to its old ways, as Trump’s former chief of staff Reince Priebus has predicted?
The answer is almost certainly no. The reasons have little to do with the GOP elite, however, whose views have not substantially changed. They instead have everything to do with what is happening in the other party. As Brimelow and Rubenstein recently pointed out in VDARE (and as I did at American Renaissance), while the nation is not expected to reach majority-minority status until 2045, the Democratic Party is already approaching that historic milestone.
The political consequences of these changes will be profound and irreversible. The developments that are unfolding before our eyes are not a fluke, but the beginning of a new political realignment in the United States that is increasingly focused on race.
While warnings of brewing demographic trouble were being ignored by the establishment right, they received a better reception on the left. In 2004, Ruy Teixeira and John Judis wrote a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority that triumphantly predicted that demographic change would soon produce a “new progressive era.” The theory’s predictive powers waxed and waned over the years, but after Trump’s 2016 election Teixeira and another coauthor, Peter Leyden, insisted that Democrats would soon sweep away an increasingly irrelevant GOP and forcibly impose their will, much as had already happened in California.
These arguments have a glaring weakness, however. They assumed that Democrats would continue to draw the same level of support from white voters. Instead, many have been fleeing to the GOP.
Throughout the 20th Century, Democrats had won the presidency only by winning or keeping it close among these voters. Barack Obama was the first to break this pattern, defeating John McCain in 2008 while losing the white vote by 12 percent. Four years later he beat Mitt Romney while losing it by 20 percent. Hillary Clinton lost the white vote in 2016 by a similar 20-point margin.
This loss of white support, coupled with the continued demographic change of the country, has helped push the Democratic Party toward majority-minority status. Since 1992, the white share of the Democratic presidential vote has dropped an average of about one percent per year. At its current rate, it could tip to majority-minority status by 2020. It will occur no later than 2024.
The political consequences of this shift are already apparent. In 2008, Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination with the overwhelming backing of black voters. Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in 2016 with similar black and Latino support. This year’s state elections have continued the trend, with minority candidates winning Democratic gubernatorial nominations in Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, and Maryland, with another likely win in Arizona later this year.
This sudden surge in minority candidates is not an indicator of increased open mindedness, but of demographic change. While the national Democratic Party is only just approaching majority-minority status, in much of the nation it is already there.
While the demographic trend of the Democratic Party seems clear enough – as does its leftward drift and increased embrace of minority candidates – it is still possible to argue that the nation’s politics will not divide along racial lines. The most obvious alternative is that both parties will compete for minority votes and both will experience demographic change in an increasingly multiracial nation. Could this happen?
Black voters seem least likely to change. They already routinely provide Democrats with 90 percent of their votes. They are the backbone of the party, with a former president, nearly 50 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and numerous mayors in major American cities among their ranks. Given the Democratic Party’s steadfast commitment to black issues such as affirmative action and Black Lives Matter, few are likely to be won over by the occasional attempts at Republican outreach.
Latinos also typically support Democrats in presidential elections by a 2-to-1 margin, but they have been a more serious target for Republicans, including President George W. Bush, his acolyte Karl Rove, authors of the GOP autopsy released after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, and occasional writers in National Review. Some have observed that many Latinos value whiteness and are more likely to self-identify as white the longer they have been in the country. In fact, some Latinos are white, particularly those from Latin America’s leadership class. Others have reported on substantial hostility that exists between Latinos and blacks that may make them more likely to see whites as natural allies.
There are several problems with these arguments. The most important are persistent race-based IQ differences that will keep most mestizos (who are the bulk of Latino immigrants) trapped at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum regardless of their racial identification. Arguments that they will assimilate like their European predecessors fail to explain why racial hierarchies have persisted in their home nations for hundreds of years. These inequalities probably explain the high levels of Hispanic support for government programs that are likely to keep most of them tied to the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future.
Although Asians also support Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin, they seem potentially more promising. Unlike America’s black and Latino populations, East Asians (such as Japanese and Chinese) have IQs that may be slightly higher than that of white Americans on average. Moreover, affirmative action policies backed by Democrats typically work to their detriment. However, most Asian immigrants are not East Asians and their IQs (such as those of Indians or Pakistanis) are much lower. Finally, no matter what their nationality, Asians are generally unsympathetic to whites who want to restrict nonwhite immigration. Unsurprisingly, all of these reasons have contributed to Asians moving away from the Republican Party, not toward it.
Some argue that Republicans have no choice but to accept demographic change and move left to gain minority support. The GOP may well move left in ways that are acceptable to its white working class base and help it with white moderates – such as protecting Social Security and Medicare. But it will never win a bidding war with Democrats for their base of minority voters, nor would the GOP base let it try.
White polarization is the mirror image of nonwhite polarization and its causes are similar. Numerous scholars have cited genetics as a basis for reciprocal altruism among closely-related kin and hostility toward outsiders among humans and in the animal kingdom in general. This ethnocentrism is instinctual, present among babies, and whites are not immune from its effects. Most are socialized to suppress their ethnocentric instincts, but they remain only a short distance beneath the surface.
Academics sometimes argue that positive direct contact is a promising strategy for overcoming racial differences, but research has shown that the negative effects are more powerful – something a cursory glance at crime statistics would confirm. Rampant white flight and segregation in neighborhoods, schools, and personal relationships provide the most definitive evidence on the negative influence of direct contact.
Its impact on voting is also well established, particularly for whites and blacks. The shift of white Southerners away from the Democratic Party after civil rights legislation was enacted in the 1960s was almost immediate and has remained strong ever since. White flight produced similar political advantages for Republicans in suburbs across the country during this period. Their advantage has softened since then, but primarily because the suburbs have become less white, not less segregated.
White voting is similarly affected by proximity to Hispanics. White flight and segregation are a constant in heavily Latino areas in both liberal and conservative states. The resulting political backlash in places like California and Arizona has been well-documented and confirmed by academic research. Support for President Trump has also been shown to be highly correlated with white identity and opposition to immigration.
These trends are expected to become stronger over time. Experimental research has shown that growing white awareness of demographic change makes them more conservative, less favorably disposed to minorities, and feel greater attachment to other whites. The effects are heightened the more whites think they are threatened.
The associated ideological effects are just as important. The influence of ideology is obvious in socially conservative states like North Dakota and Kansas. However, the Democrats’ growing leftward tilt has become an issue even in liberal states like those in New England, many of which now regularly elect Republicans as governors. In fact, liberal Massachusetts has had just one Democratic governor in the past quarter century.
The power of leftist ideology to drive whites together may reach its zenith if Democrats resume their attack on segregation in neighborhoods and schools. De facto segregation has protected white liberals from the consequences of their voting decisions for years. If Democrats are returned to power, however, they appear ready to touch this electoral third rail.
Further evidence of racial polarization can be found by looking abroad. Ethnic conflict has been a constant in human relations – everywhere and throughout history. More recently, 64 percent of all civil wars since 1946 have divided along ethnic lines. Such conflicts are highly correlated with genetic diversity and ethnic polarization. Some of the worst examples, such as Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan, have included ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Race-based identity politics are just a lower form of ethnic conflict. Like ethnic conflict more generally, the strength of such politics depends on the level of ethnic diversity and corresponding racial polarization. In homogenous societies, for example, politics tends to divide along class and cultural lines. As a society becomes more diverse, however, ethnicity begins to play a growing role.
Politics and parties that are explicitly ethnically-based usually do not appear until much later, when a nation has become more diverse and has begun to suffer extreme racial polarization. Such politics have been shown to produce substantial ethnic favoritism. Their appearance is often a prelude to civil war or partition.
The United States has not reached this stage, but its future can be seen in other nations that are further down the road. One example is Brazil. While the United States will not become majority-minority until 2045, Brazil reached that milestone in 2010. For much of the 20th Century, Brazil viewed itself as a harmonious racial democracy and a model for the rest of the world, but this image has been tarnished in recent years.
The nation’s changing demographics demonstrated their power with the election of Lula da Silva in 2002 and his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, in 2010. Support for these two presidents – both members of the leftist Workers Party – was concentrated in the largely black northern half of the country, while opposition was concentrated in the mostly white south. Their victories depended on the nation’s changing demographics. Once elected, they rewarded their black supporters with substantial expansions of affirmative action and a new cash transfer system, called Bolsa Família, which disproportionately benefitted Afro-Brazilians.
Since then, Brazil’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Rousseff was impeached after a massive corruption scandal in 2016. Crime has exploded. Black activists now deride the notion of “racial democracy“ and have become more militant on racial issues. An explicitly black political party has also appeared.
This has corresponded with a similar backlash in the white population. The leading candidate for the presidential election this year is Jair Bolsonaro, sometimes referred to as the Trump of the Tropics. A white separatist movement called the South is My Country is drawing substantial support. Brazilians are reportedly losing faith in democracy and becoming more receptive to military rule.
The preponderance of the evidence – domestic, international, historical, and scientific – suggests that American politics will continue to polarize along racial and ethnic lines. At least in the short term, Republicans will benefit as white voters flee from the other party. But will the GOP adequately capitalize on these gains?
Various elements of the GOP establishment, including the business elite and pro-immigration donors like the Koch brothers, continue to hold substantial power within the party. Reince Priebus probably echoed their views when he said, “I think post-Trump, the party basically returns to its traditional role and a traditional platform.”
Such status quo thinking ignores too much. There are numerous signs that the party is changing. Trump’s popularity within his own party is the second highest among all presidents since World War II, trailing only George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Congressional Never Trumpers like Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and Mark Sanford have been defeated or stepped aside. Prominent columnists, analysts, and at least one former GOP leader are now declaring it Trump’s party.
These changes are not solely about Trump, however. There were signs of change before his arrival. Eric Cantor’s primary defeat in 2014 was widely attributed to softness on immigration, which met furious grassroots opposition. Moreover, if Trump’s rise were merely a one-off event, we would not be seeing the simultaneous rise of nationalist movements in Europe, which is facing its own immigration crisis.
The more likely answer is that these changes reflect something more powerful than any individual, even the president of the United States. The same survival instinct that is present in all living creatures still burns brightly within the world’s European peoples. Trump was not the cause, but a consequence – and we will not go gently into the night.
Patrick McDermott (email him) is a political analyst in Washington, DC.