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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Sunday, July 15, 2018

How Important is Demography in American Politics?

This week's Economist has a lengthy special report on American politics, focusing especially on the identify politics that have emerged in the widening gulf between Republicans and Democrats in this country. And how could I resist not talking about this article when the author's acknowledgments include being in debt to several prominent demographers whose names have appeared in my book and blog: Bill Frey, Steve Murdock, and Dowell Myers. Indeed, Bill Frey and Dowell Myers were featured in my blog post just a week ago

The article picks up on the fact that many observers over the years have assumed that as racial/ethnic diversity increases in the U.S. the Democratic Party would benefit more than the Republican Party because the assumption was that Democrats had a political agenda more to their liking. Indeed, there has been a lot of speculation that these kinds of analyses helped to spur on the fears of losing "power" among non-Hispanic whites, helping to propel Donald Trump to the presidency. As I noted last week, Dowell Myers has suggested that the old race-ethnic categories that most of us have been using forever hide the fact that a lot of intermarriage has been going on that has led to people identifying themselves as "white" even though they may indicate on a census questionnaire that they are of more than one race. And, of course, this kind of discussion always reminds me of the very interesting article by Mara Loveman and Jeronimo Muniz: "How Puerto Rico Became White: Boundary Dynamics and Inter-Census Racial Reclassification." American Sociological Review 42(6): 915-939, (2007). Sadly, after Hurricane Maria there were a lot of people on the mainland who didn't even want to acknowledge that Puerto Ricans were Americans, much less white Americans...

Of particular interest in the Economist article is that one of their story lines is that "Demography is not Destiny." This is actually an about-face for a magazine that has probably used the phrase "demography is destiny" more than any other that I know. In this case demography refers to the population characteristic of "race-ethnicity" and the discussion is about the extent to which our self-identified race-ethnicity determines how we think about the world. The best answer is that this is complicated. Race-ethnic categories are social constructs, in the first place, and the whole idea of the American experience is--as the Economist author ends the story--e pluribus unum: out of many, one.

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