This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Friday, September 21, 2018

Will Demography be Destiny in Texas?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for linking me to an NPR story this morning about the very tight Senate race currently taking place in Texas between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz. Cruz, of course, is the incumbent Senator while O'Rourke is a Member of Congress from El Paso. Cruz's father is from Cuba, although his mother is of Irish-American descent and Cruz himself was born in Canada and is apparently not fluent in Spanish, and he has an American, not Spanish, nickname. By contrast, O'Rourke is not Latino, but is fluent in Spanish and has a Spanish nickname. Which candidate will appeal most to Latinos? And will Latinos turn out to vote? The latter question seems to be the big one in Texas.
While polls show a single-digit race, O'Rourke will need a transformed electorate in order to win in Texas, where no Democrat has prevailed in a statewide race in almost a quarter-century. Specifically, O'Rourke needs to get dramatically more Latinos to show up to the polls in a state where Latinos have far less political clout than their demographic weight would suggest.
"For a couple of decades now there has been a 'demographics is destiny' narrative that has existed," said Manny Garcia with the Texas Democratic Party. "And sadly for many of those years, it seems like base Democrats — communities of color — were taken for granted."
In Texas' urban counties and the heavily Latino counties in the Rio Grande Valley, there's no surge of new Latino voters, according to voter registration data.
Since 2016, there have been single-digit-percentage increases in the number of new voters around the state's four biggest cities of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. In the heavily Latino Bexar County where San Antonio is located, voter registration totals have grown by less than 3 percent since 2016.
While Latinos are expected to become the largest population group in Texas by 2020, whether this is the year Latinos cost Republicans a statewide election remains an open question.
I happen to have the 2016 ACS data for the U.S. on my computer, so I did a quick check of the ethnic breakdown in the state of Texas as of two years ago. Among all people in the state, Hispanics currently account for 39% of the population, which is slightly less than the 43% who are non-Hispanic whites. If we look just at the population aged 18 and older (voting age), we find that Hispanics are 35% of the population compared to 46% for non-Hispanic whites. Finally, I looked only at citizens aged 18 and older--people who are eligible to vote. Here we find that Hispanics are only 29% of the voter-eligible population compared to 52% who are non-white Hispanics.

So, if O'Rourke is going to win by pulling in Latino/Hispanic voters, he has more work to do than it might seem at first glance. Tonight's debate should prove very interesting in many respects.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Spatial Demography of Facebook

Where you are matters just as who you are (your socioeconomic characteristics) matters in life. This is not about geographic determinism; it is about social connectedness. This was illustrated beautifully by a story today in the New York Times highlighting research on the geographic distribution of friends on Facebook.
In the millions of ties on Facebook that connect relatives, co-workers, classmates and friends, Americans are far more likely to know people nearby than in distant communities that share their politics or mirror their demographics. The dominant picture in data analyzed by economists at Facebook, Harvard, Princeton and New York University is not that like-minded places are linked; rather, people in counties close to one another are.
Even in the age of the internet, distance matters immensely in determining whom — and, as a result, what — we know.
Distance isn't the only important thing, of course, but since people who are similar tend to live near one another, the effect is amplified. This is a strong reminder that we are social creatures, and that point is made nicely at the end of the article by Mark Granovetter, who was a pioneer in social network analysis:
The patterns in this Facebook data don’t necessarily mean that limited social networks cause worse economic and health outcomes, or that wide-ranging networks produce better ones. But other researchers say this data will make it possible in future studies to untangle why they’re related.
“This gives us the first way to systematically look at some of those relationships,” said Mark Granovetter, a sociologist at Stanford who has written influential papers on the value of social networks. “They have just scratched the surface here.”