The “Great Replacement” math revisited

It has been three years since some major gun massacre or another (unfortunately they all run together these days) prompted me to write about the real math behind the “Great Replacement” hypothesis that again has Tucker Carlson, plus a teen killer in Buffalo, New York, and other Fox News hosts in a tizzy. It is time to revisit. In short, rich, white Americans will dominate the political landscape well past the lifetimes of most readers of this blog. That’s the math. Is that good news or bad news?

I personally do not fear a new influx of immigrants into the U.S. It has been the “new blood” immigration of younger workers that has largely kept the Social Security system from default in the last fifty years, and I need that to get through another couple of decades before it is someone else’s problem. [1] We could easily find jobs today for another million immigrants, and even another million would likely make their own jobs. I have read enough history and have lived in immigrant-heavy towns long enough to know that the last generation’s undesirables become the next generation’s grouchy immigrant-hating fogies. But the next million immigrants are not coming from Sweden like my grandfather did, and that appears to be the issue.

If history were accurately taught in our schools, this most recent Buffalo murderer’s screed on “The Great Replacement,” with guns aimed specifically at Black Americans, would make even less sense. The ancestors of the great majority of Black Americans go back in an unbroken line on American soil far longer than most of us of European descent. But my governor won’t let kids read The 1619 Project. High-lethality guns they can buy, and young girls can be forced to bear the babies of their rapists, but teens cannot read The 1619 Project and learn the real immigration story behind America. Instead, their U.S. History classes jump 150 years from Plymouth Rock to the Boston Tea Party in one day.

I know many white Americans who really do live in fear of non-white immigrants, however. You can pick your numbers as to when it occurs, but the impending demographic shift in the United States under which white Americans become the numerical minority in the country is within sight, perhaps by 2044. Despite the headlines, however, the math and associated politics do not support as radical a change as feared or hoped. The finer detail in that data, and current political “inertia,” reveal five important reasons why this date is less significant than you might think:

  1. The demographic plurality of Americans currently identified as “white” (itself always a changing definition) will carry on for many years, even decades, after the 2044 date.
  2. “Minority America” is not one thing, rather it is made up of a variety of ethnic heritages, and they do not vote or act as one unified body.
  3. Even in 2044, the “minority-majority” population mix skews heavily to the “youth” side, and so voting power, which is highly correlated to age, will continue to heavily favor white candidates.
  4. Political power in Southern and rural regions of the U.S. will remain white-dominated well after 2044, thanks to the constitutional construction of the Senate, gerrymandered legislative divisions, and entrenched power structures.
  5. We do not really have a “one-person, one-vote” political system, rather we have more of a “one-dollar, one-vote” system, especially after the Citizens United case. Big Money will “skew white” for many decades to come.

Majority versus plurality

Unless we change the structure of elections in this country, the American “first past the post” electoral system ensures that it is pluralities that decide elections, not majorities. For instance, older Americans regularly vote in a proportion “well above their weight,” creating a powerful demographic plurality on issues where there is a widespread age correlation, such as Social Security policy. Congress and the courts continue to skew much more “white” than the general population as a result, and that will take a long time to change.

As the diagram from the Brookings Institution below illustrates, even in 2045 the “white bloc” of the population, while a bit less than the statistical majority, is by far the largest plurality by this method of “cutting the pie.” This bloc is still twice as big as the Hispanic bloc, the next largest, and even aggressive projections of further demographic change do not alter that dominance within the lifetimes of most people reading this blog.

Are the blocs really blocs?

And of course, this brings up the entire question of whether there really is such a thing as a “white voting bloc.” We do know, for instance, that the descendants of Cuban migrants to southeast Florida have long favored Republicans more than have people of Mexican ancestry. Categorical lines are more difficult to draw here than the colors on the above pie chart suggest. Intermarriage among different ethnicities also messes up these lines (for the better, I would say). In addition, our history demonstrates that the definition of “white” has changed over time as various immigrant groups have integrated into the larger society (although often with strong resistance at the time). Is Florida Senator Marco Rubio Hispanic, or is he “white”?

Barack Obama’s two successful presidential elections did show a very strong candidate preference from Black Americans, with as high as 91% of this bloc voting for Obama in 2008, and in record numbers. I would assert, however, that this is likely more anomaly than permanent expectation (as evidenced by the 2016 election fall-off), caused in part by the excitement of the first American with African ancestry running for president, but also due to the open animosity toward concerns of many black Americans by Republican leaders ever since Richard Nixon successfully pulled most Southern segregationists, formerly Democrats, into the Republican fold with his “Southern Strategy.”

The demographics of age

That earlier-cited Brookings Institution report projected that, by 2020, the under-18 population in the U.S. will have turned “minority-majority.” We await final census numbers. However, the crucial age-based voting bloc of 50-60-year-olds is not projected to reach this “tipping point” until 2050, with the 60+ age group not tipping until after 2060. Unless the age demographics of voting change dramatically over the next couple of decades, the political dominance of the 50+ contingent in the U.S. will remain well entrenched.

The Senate and the gerrymandered House

Much has been written on the “natural skew” of the U.S. Senate over time toward out-sized power for smaller, rural, and whiter states. In 1790 the most populous state (Virginia) had a 13-to-1 population advantage over the smallest state (Delaware), yet all states had two senators each. By 2020, the population ratio of California to Wyoming had reached 68-to-1. Still two senators each. While many Republicans defend this skew on constitutional grounds, it is hard to make the case that the Founders ever anticipated this level of numerical imbalance. At best, this is a statistical accident of history, with some amount of political manipulation along the way (two Dakotas?).

Gerrymandering, the intentional carve up of legislative district lines to favor one political party, continues to be an issue for numerous court challenges after the 2020 census data has recast political boundaries. However, the Supreme Court has already put its stamp of approval on party-favoring boundaries in a 2019 decision. The problem here is that political parties have become efficient proxies for racial gerrymandering, and the Roberts court has not even been inclined to support the race-based correcting criteria of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In other words, armed only with a computer and voter data, many states are now free to massage political boundaries in ways that will entrench conservative white minority power for at least the next decade, and likely much further.

The money skews white

Finally, the ever-increasing income inequality toward the high end of the income and net worth scales has long been skewed racially to include proportionally-few Black and Hispanic Americans. American political power has, since its founding (another one of those taboo history topics in schools), been well-entrenched in the economic 1% of the population. More recently, the effective removal of monetary limits on political campaign spending increasingly makes this power so much stronger that the political power of minorities has been further reduced, I would argue, to the same flat line as the cumulative net worth chart below.

The “money is power” reality also points out that there is a lot of “non-American” money floating around the U.S. exercising political power, and it comes from emigres and citizens of Russia, China, and the Gulf states. Again, minority America is left “out in the cold” when this money enters the political system. As I have written in the past, money IS choice.

What is a “white issue” anyway?

In summary, the mathematical and political “threat” of “minority-majority America” seems to me to be pretty muted going well out past my line of sight into the future. Any real change is occurring in issues where there is a small plurality of white voters on one side of an issue as opposed to the other, and thus where a countervailing plurality of non-white voters on the other side can shift the outcome.

If an issue is supported by, say, 60% of white voters, let me suggest that it is not really a “white issue,” because 40% of white voters disapprove of the same issue. While 60% seems to be a substantial majority, note that just a 5-point voter swing on these issues is enough to “turn the tide,” as only 5%, not 10%, of the votes need to flip from one position to another.

The “threat” posed by “minority-majority America” is thus not so much in “white people losing power” as it is in that some issues have important marginal support by people with decided racist tendencies who “fear the Other.” On most of these issues, the further marginalization of these tendencies would be, in my opinion, a very good thing for the overall health of the society and the planet at large. Basic human decency toward all people should not have a racial bias, but historically it certainly has.

If anything, what looks like a “white issue” is more often a “Big Money” issue, such as the 2017 tax law changes, where the majority of white supporters likely never realized that their pockets were being picked by the interests of billionaires wanting to pay lower taxes.

The “best sense” definition of politics is the process through which “good people disagree,” but are able to co-exist without killing each other, using alternative tactics like advocacy, consensus-building and negotiation. The application of these skills can bring societal progress on “60-40” issues, or even “70-30” issues. However, when brinkmanship and authoritarian power come into the picture, we can see the entrenchment of political positions based on basic fear, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ignorance of basic science.

With “The Great Replacement” rhetoric still being spewed every evening on Fox News however, a simple math lesson likely does little good.


Notes:

  1. This includes undocumented immigration. Fake Social Security numbers used by undocumented workers redirect about $16 billion annually into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, but will never be claimed.

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