Is there anyone yet unconvinced that the United States is changing demographically and evolving, seemingly right before our collective eyes, into a more diverse population of residents?
If so, I challenge that unknowing and unseeing individual to spend an hour or two reading and then reflecting on “States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974–2060,” an impressive report issued Tuesday by a collaboration of my Center for American Progress colleagues, the American Enterprise Institute, and demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.
Frequent readers in this space know that I’m fixated on the promise of a diverse America. All too often, however, my writing tracks toward the lofty and aspirational rather than being rooted in hard empiricism. Because gathering credible data about racial and ethnic changes in our society is difficult at best, public discussion about race tends to examine feelings far more than facts.
Race is a social construct, not a hard science. This makes arguments based on analysis of the changing qualities of our racial population so challenging that few scholars dare to try to study or explain what is obvious on the faces of everyone that walks by us.
But no more. In an effort to bring some scholarly clarity to the demographic changes roiling our nation, the States of Change project, which is a collaboration supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is a part of a long-running effort to:
- Document and study the ways that democracy is and will be challenged by the historic and ongoing demographic changes in the United States from the 1970s to 2060.
- Project the racial/ethnic composition of each state through the middle of the 21st century.
- Spark important—and bipartisan—conversations about the nation’s demographic future, with a special emphasis on how political structures must change to embrace a changed voting public.
Simply put, the study recognizes that “the scale of race-ethnic transformation in the United States is stunning.” Soon—possibly as early as 2044 but surely by 2050—the majority of our population will be comprised of who we now consider to be racial or ethnic minorities. White Americans will be less than half of our nation’s population.
For some Americans, the idea of a majority-minority nation provokes anxiety—or worse, fear. In a widely reported paper released last year, Maureen A. Craig and Jennifer A. Richeson, of Northwestern University’s Department of Psychology and Institute for Policy Research, conducted four separate experiments to see how racial demographic shifts might affect white Americans’ political party leanings and ideologies. They found that “the increasing diversity of the nation may engender a widening partisan divide.”
In their four studies, they found specifically:
Study 1 revealed that making California’s majority-minority shift salient led politically unaffiliated White Americans to lean more toward the Republican Party and express greater political conservatism. Studies 2, 3a, and 3b revealed that making the changing national racial demographics salient led White Americans (regardless of political affiliation) to endorse conservative policy positions more strongly. Moreover, the results implicate group-status threat as the mechanism underlying these effects.
By contrast, the “States of Change” authors—Ruy Teixeira, a Senior Fellow at American Progress and co-director of the project; Robert Griffin, a Senior Research Associate at American Progress; and William Frey, who is also a project co-director and a professor in population studies at the University of Michigan—don’t foreshadow such dire outcomes.
Indeed, the grand idea behind their collaboration—formed from think tanks spanning the ideological spectrum—is to prevent such pessimism about the inevitable demographic changes from overwhelming the nation’s electorate. They write:
Over the long term, public policy must adjust to the needs of a quite different America. Diversity is spreading everywhere: into new generations, into every age group—even seniors—and into every corner of the country—including such unlikely states as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Utah. Policy, both national and state, must become increasingly diversity oriented or be deemed ineffective. There is simply no way around this.
“States of Change” is a big project that is only just beginning. As someone who wants to believe that the future of a diverse America is a positive sign of things to come, I welcome the scholarship that will help all of us better understand the future we’re rapidly entering.
Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.