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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Monday, June 18, 2018

Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change

I just finished reading a newly released book by Janelle S. Wong, Professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland. Her doctorate is in Political Science and her book--Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change--reveals her breadth of social science knowledge. Protestant evangelicals represent a large and growing segment of the American population. They are found not just among non-Hispanic whites, but also among blacks, Latinos (she uses the non-gender-specific term Latinx) and Asian-Americans. Among all race/ethnic groups, evangelicals are politically more conservative than non-evangelicals. But her analysis of new survey data comparing evangelicals and non-evangelicals leads her to the clear conclusion that race is what drives political conservatism among this group. The heart of the matter is that immigration--hugely in the news as a result of the Trump administration's policy of separating children from parents at the border--is changing the demographic mix of the country, and xenophobia has reached levels not seen since the Depression era.
I show in this book that part of what underlies white evangelicals' more conservative policy attitudes compared with the attitudes of nonwhites [and compared to white non-evangelicals] is the belief that whites face as much discrimination as outgroups, such as Muslims, or even more. About half of white evangelicals in this study held this belief, and those who hold it are likely to support conservative policy positions across a range of issue areas. This measure, I believe, captures a sense of white embattlement against a changing world. (p. 95)
She adroitly calls upon theories of social or symbolic boundaries to help explain this type of xenophobia:
Social theorists have long attended to boundary-making as a fundamental process of social interaction...Most important for the research presented in the current study is the notion of "symbolic boundaries." Cynthia Fuchs Epstein [a Past President of the American Sociological Association] argues that while boundaries may be "mechanical and physical," they may also "be conceptual and symbolic." Symbolic boundaries, according to Epstein, vary in meaning, but this variability does not detract from their social power. Rather, because individuals may attach their own meanings to symbolic boundaries, boundaries are maintained even in the face of different interpretations. (p. 94)
The book is a relatively short, but very well written research monograph, whose analysis and conclusions help us understand the role of demographic change in producing the Trump era.

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