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.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Xenophobia and American Politics

I'm currently reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow." He is a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, but he is a psychologist who has spent his life figuring out how we humans think (and believe things). In my view, this book is a must-read for everyone. I thought about his book over the past couple of days, in particular, as I have been listening to the media reaction to a paper just out by two psychologists at Northwestern University: "On the Precipice of a ''Majority-Minority'' America: Perceived Status Threat From the Racial Demographic Shift Affects White Americans' Political Ideology" by Maureen A. Craig and Jennifer A. Richeson and published in the journal Psychological Science. Among the many reviews was this one in Slate:
Using a nationally representative survey of self-identified politically “independent” whites, Craig and Richeson conducted three experiments. In the first, they asked respondents about the racial shift in California—if they had heard the state had become majority-minority. What they found was a significant shift toward Republican identification, which increased for those who lived closest to the West Coast.
In the second experiment, they focused on the overall U.S. shift with census projections of the national population. Again, they found that white Americans became more conservative—and more likely to endorse conservative policies—when they were aware of demographic changes that put them in the minority.
The final experiment—where questions were further refined and targeted—saw similar results. As Craig and Richeson write, “Perceived group-status threat, triggered by exposure to majority-minority shift, increases Whites’ endorsement of conservative political ideology and policy positions.” What’s more, this held true even after they told respondents “whites are likely to remain at the top of the future racial hierarchy.”
As the Slate author notes, this is fascinating, but not really surprising. I have blogged several times about xenophobia (e.g, here), and it certainly comes up several times in my book. This is an unfortunate human trait. Of course, the long-held, and in my opinion correct, view is that once you get to know people, and realize that people are people, no matter what your stereotype of them, the angst goes away and everybody moves on. That is why Germans, Irish, and Italians, for example, are now part of the "non-Hispanic white" population in the U.S. It just all takes time, and in the meantime a lot of lives can be ruined.

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