President Obama came to a good place last weekend to tell people what this election is about. Dallas may not be the only bull’s eye in America for a discussion of ethnicity politics and voting rights, but it’ll do.
In our own backyard and in the nation, some white people are worried about a minority takeover of the society. But that gets down to voting. And any discussion of the vote gets down to the measures that expand or constrict voter turnout at the polls — a key focus of the president’s remarks here and in Austin.
We’re a good test case. As our city and region have grown dramatically more ethnically diverse, we have become even more polarized by ethnicity and race at the polls — a phenomenon that surprises everybody but the political scientists.
After the 2014 elections, Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com published an analysis of Texas voting that included a close look at Dallas and pointed to a pronounced pattern: The more diverse we have become in population, the more ethnically divided we are in the voting booth. Political scientists blame it on a phenomenon they call “group threat” or “racial threat.” Apparently it’s not new.
Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard University, told fivethirtyeight, “It actually goes all the way back to the 1930s, when the political scientist V.O. Key noticed that white voters living in close proximity to blacks were more likely to turn out to vote and to vote for conservative Southern Democrats than whites living further away.”
And it’s not just us, by any means. Toni Monkovic, writing “The Upshot” column in The New York Times last week, pointed to new polling data showing that Donald Trump scores less well in relatively mono-racial white areas than in diverse states and areas. So maybe all the ongoing effort to explain Trump as appealing only to poorly educated people is just journalistic condescension.
The success of the Tea Party in affluent Collin County north of Dallas, for example, would suggest there could be lots of well-educated Trump-lovers up there who are just scared to death by what they see as a possible minority-majority takeover of the society.
By the way, just as an aside, I think there can be no such thing as a minority-majority. Isn’t that a majority? But if you can wait for just a few paragraphs, I’ll probably contradict myself on that.
Texas cities in general are a good place to talk about all of this, because, taken as one, urban Texas is such a powerful fulcrum in determining which way the state will swing. In 2012, 63 percent of the vote in Texas came from the 14 most populous counties, while only 37 percent came from the other 240 counties. But urban, in this sense, does not mean city. It really means urban/suburban or metropolitan area.
Our own metro area, then, includes two proper cities, Dallas and Fort Worth, surrounded by enough suburb to cover the moon. If we looked down from a satellite on our area with an ethnicity telescope, we would see a very finely woven pattern of ethnic proximities – black, white and Hispanic in the cities, and then some of the same but also mixed with a good deal more international immigrant population in the suburbs.
City-data.com, the Illinois-based national marketing data firm, paints Dallas proper now as a Hispanic-plurality city – 41.3 percent Hispanic, 29.5 percent white, 23.9 percent black. Diversitydata.org at Brandeis University paints the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington metro area as 49.3 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic and 15 percent black. Since 2000 that’s a drop of 10 percentage points for whites, an increase of six points for Hispanics and an increase of one point for African-Americans.
Nationally, non-Hispanic whites are fading slowly, according to the census, from 63.7 to 62.1 percent from 2010 to 2014, while African-Americans in the same period increased their national percentage slightly, from 12.6 to 13.2 percent and Hispanics increased from 16.3 to 17.4 percent.
That may not seem like much, but let’s look at it from a more King of the Hill perspective. In 2010, white people had an almost 35 percentage point edge over the people white people might lump together as minorities, meaning in particular black people and Hispanics. In four years, that demographic advantage dropped to 28.5 points, a loss of more than six points.
Now it’s time for me to contradict myself already on what I just said two minutes ago — that there can be no such thing as a minority-majority. Ah, but there can be a minority-majority, if white people say there is. Going back to our own more local data, I remind you that the numbers for both the city of Dallas and the metro area now show whites at less than 50 percent.
We whites (I’m one, if I forgot to mention that) could still look at the numbers and say, “Yeah, but we’re the biggest! We’re still a plurality. Nobody beats whites for numerousness!”
Or, if we wanted to get all racially wigged-out and worried about it, we could lump together all of the people we define as minorities as a new numerical majority that we will now call “not us.” I’m trying to think of a better noun-form. Not-Us-Ers? Not-Us-Ics? Not-Us-Americans? I’ll work on it and let you know.
I don’t think we white people all look at the world the white King of the Hill way by any means. But for the sake of argument and just for grins, let’s say we did. Then here in Texas but especially in the urban areas in Texas, the whole game for the King-of-the-Hillers is about discouraging any increase in voter turnout by the Not-Us-Ers – a fight we’re already sort of losing if you want to look at it that way.
In the 2012 national election, turnout among eligible voters was highest for black voters at 67 percent. Eligible whites voted at a 64 percent turnout rate. That was the second national election in a row in which African-Americans voted at a higher rate than whites. The consistent malingerers in 2012 were eligible Hispanics, who lagged dramatically at a turnout rate of only 48 percent.
So you see the mechanics here. The basic demographic trends have a lot to do with white people being old and dying while more non-whites are being born and growing to majority. On the back of that underlying trend, if somebody can do something to juice up the Hispanic voter turnout rate even modestly, then these big urban/suburban fulcrum metro areas in Texas could shift.
And shifting does seem to be in the air, sort of, if we could only tell which way. A couple days ago Vox published a story about a 2003 political science journal article that seemed to predict or partially explain the otherwise entirely inexplicable current election cycle. What we are seeing now, according to Gary J. Miller and Norman Schofield, is the latest stage in a decades-long “glacial” shift or rotation of the two national political parties.
In this waltz, Trump would be seen as pulling the party away from an economic position in favor of big business into what was once solid liberal country where big business is regarded with skepticism and even hostility. But he would also be seen pulling the party away from racial moderation toward a harder-edged racial politics of white restoration.
Clinton, meanwhile, would be viewed as rotating right toward former Republican territory on big business but out of social moderation toward a harder left position on race and ethnicity.
Both elements – Trumpism and Clintonism – are getting kicked and tugged along in this by race and ethnicity. A key element in the shift on race and ethnicity for both sides must be voter turnout and the local and state laws that affect it one way or the other.
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Last Saturday, President Obama told a Dallas crowd: “Right here in Texas, Republicans have systematically made it harder to register, and harder to vote.”
On Monday the leader of those Texas Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott, shot back: “What I find is that leaders of the other party are against efforts to crack down on voter fraud.”
Obama told a techy South by Southwest audience in Austin Saturday that he wants to see the development of Internet voting. Abbott basically said Monday that Internet voting sucks rocks.
Does the context help at all here? Or should we just go back to throwing food at our flat screens (which, if I failed to mention before, I am absolutely in favor of).