Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Scared, White GOP

Wray Herbert digs into the reasons for the Republican Party's right turn in The Huffington Post.

The 2012 election, according to sociologist Michael Kimmel, merely crystallized a much larger cultural and economic shift already taking place in the country. In his top-selling new book, Angry White Men, Kimmel describes the gradual but profound changes that have marginalized -- and continue to marginalize -- white men in America. These changes, Kimmel argues, have left the country's once dominant group with a sense of "aggrieved entitlement" -- the sense that their rightful place has been usurped.

If white voters are angry now, just wait. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that, by the year 2042, racial minority groups will make up the majority of the nation's population -- and voters. Nobody really knows how this so-called "majority-minority" shift will affect Americans' attitudes and actions, although many believe it will spell even further trouble for conservatives and Republicans.

Others aren't so sure. Those include Northwestern University psychological scientists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, who raise another possibility. Might this demographic shift have the opposite effect, leading to greater endorsement of conservative political ideology, at least among white Americans? Psychological theory supports the idea that conservatives, if threatened, will circle the ideological wagons, embracing rather than moving away from conservative values. Craig and Richeson decided to explore this idea empirically, to see if the likelihood of an increasingly diverse racial landscape influences the politics of white Americans, and if so, how.

Again, the scientists found that those who were thinking about the changing racial landscape of the country -- these white Americans were more likely to endorse conservative policies. What's more, as described in a forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science, this move to the right was clearly motivated by white fears of losing status. Intriguingly, the conservative shift affected both race-related policies and policies unconnected to race -- suggesting that psychological threat is capable of triggering a broad political shift.

Think about this. We're not talking about threats to life and limb here, but rather abstract concerns about a loss of status. And not even an imminent loss of status, but instead one that's coming three decades down the road. These results suggest that predictions about the decline of the Republican Party may be premature, indeed that more white Americans may join the conservative, Republican ranks as this threat gets closer. But the GOP they join will be whiter and whiter, and the political landscape will be more and more racially polarized.

1 comment:

PW said...

Interesting. Thanks for drawing attention to Herbert's piece.

Reminds me that many of us have fallen into the habit of seeing the center as somewhere between Rep and Dem. But it's not. No more than the "reality" lies somewhere between flat- and round-earthers. Until we figure out how to get out of that trap, we're in trouble.