Ruy Teixeira is a demographics expert who is the co-author with John Judis of The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002.) He's currently a Senior Fellow at both The Century Foundation and Center for American Progress and has recently published a working paper entitled Demographic Change and the Future of the Parties (.pdf, 45 pages), reviewed here by Tom Schaller for FiveThirtyEight.com and Ed Kilgore at the Democratic Strategist. Ruy's work was featured yesterday in a NY Times column by Charles Blow.
From his CAP page:
Teixeira's recent writings include "Demographic Change and the Future of the Parties," "The European Paradox" (with Matt Browne and John Halpin), "New Progressive America," "New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation" (with David Madland), and "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class" (with Alan Abramowitz).
Ruy has kindly agreed to answer a few question for us pertaining to the working paper and some selected contemporary political issues.
Daily Kos: You’ve been following demographic trends for years. In your working paper, you note that the working class white vote, which is often conservative-oriented, is declining and by remarkable percentages (25% in PA over twenty years, 24% in NV), suggesting major repercussions for conservative politics. Are those trends everywhere? Are places like the
Ruy Teixeira: Absolutely—these trends are very definitely affecting states like these. There’s a table in the paper where I show the decline in the share of white working class voters by state since 1988 in all states where exit poll data are available. Since 1988, the share of white working-class voters in Florida has declined 17 points, while the white college graduate share has risen 4 points and the minority share is up by 12 points. In Texas, the white working class share is down 17 points, with minorities up 9 points and white college graduates up 7 points. In Ohio the share of white working-class voters fell by 15 points between 1988 and 2008 while white college graduates rose by 8 points and minorities by 6 points. Even a state like Mississippi has seen a huge drop in the white working class vote since 1988 (down 21 points).
These trends will continue to affect red states in the future. About 90 percent of future population growth in Texas will be from minorities particularly Hispanics. And the highest growth rates in the Hispanic population are currently seen in five southern states: Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Daily Kos: The millennial voters by our polling and by others including Pew are one of the most progressive and Democratic party-leaning demographics. What’s their make-up and in your opinion are they likely to stay progressive and leaning Democratic?
Ruy Teixeira: By 2020, Millennials will be just under 40 percent of eligible voters and will be even more heavily minority (44 percent) than they are today. This generation is not only growing rapidly and voting consistently Democratic but also leans heavily Democratic on party identification. The recent difficult political environment for the Democrats has seen their overall party identification lead slip considerably, but they have retained a double digit lead (14 points) among Millennials in the latest Pew analysis. And Millennials hold a raft of progressive positions in various issue areas that should continue to propel them toward the Democrats.
On social issues, Millennials support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past. They are also notably progressive on foreign policy issues, and favor a multilateral and cooperative foreign policy more than their elders. Millennials, more so than other generations, want a stronger government to make the economy work better, help those in need, and provide more services. These views extend to a range of domestic policy issues including education, clean energy, and, especially, health care.
But will Millennials remain as progressive as they are today? Some argue that Millennials will surely become more conservative as they age—a lifecycle effect will moderate their youthful progressivism and send them toward the GOP. While it is possible that the Millennial generation may become more conservative as they age, evidence suggests that they are likely to remain largely progressive. Dismissing Millennial progressivism as just the product of youth would be misguided.
To being with, while the degree to which people maintain the attitudes and opinions that they currently have throughout their life is a point of much debate, the general thrust of academic literature is that political ideas and attachments that are developed in early adulthood tend to last. Research suggests that a socialization process occurs that leads young adults to hold onto the party identification and opinions that they developed in their formative years.
This is especially true with partisan identification. Party identification is the single strongest predictor of how people vote and tends to stick with individuals once they form an attachment early in their political lives. Duane F. Alwin and Jon A. Krosnick analyzed NES panel data over several decades and argue in a study in the American Journal of Sociology that "party loyalties either increase or persist with age."
There is less research about whether people maintain their support for specific issues rather than general partisanship. Yet many of these academic studies raise considerable doubt about claims that people naturally become less progressive as they age. Alwin and Krosnick argue that attitude stability "appears to occur immediately following early adulthood...and appears to remain at a constant and high-level throughout the remainder of the life cycle." This is particularly true on social issues but there is good evidence of relative stability on economic issues as well (for much more on this, see my CAP report with David Madland, New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation).
It therefore seems unlikely that aging will make this generation any more amenable to strict economic and social conservatism. Here as elsewhere the GOP will have to move to the center to compete for these voters and mitigate their currently large disadvantage. And Democrats are likely to remain in a strong position though policy failure could certainly compress their advantage.
Daily Kos: Karen Tumulty wrote a fascinating article this past week
As political gambles go, it's a big and risky one: $50 million to test the proposition that the Democratic Party's outreach to new voters that helped make Barack Obama president can work in an election where his name is not on the ballot...
suggesting that the Obama administration was targeting new voters at the expense of the traditional base voter. Is this a misread of who the base is, or a continuation of inevitable demographic shift?
Ruy Teixeira: This strikes me as a good idea. Critics of this approach are certainly right to note that these new voters, many of whom are from low turnout demographics like Hispanics and particularly young people, will not turn out at the levels of so-called base voters who have been in the electorate for a longer time. But it still should be possible to increase the turnout rates of these new voters and reduce this differential—research suggests that outreach efforts, particularly those with a high dose of personal contact, can make a real difference in turnout levels. That would obviously benefit the Democrats.
Of course, there are opportunity costs to these outreach efforts. But my sense is that it will still be money well-spent, particularly when we keep in mind that the new Millennial and minority voters of today are the base voters of tomorrow. Time and money spent contacting and motivating these voters is likely to pay off not just in this election but in future ones as well.
Daily Kos: Some polls suggest that the AZ immigration approach under Jan Brewer is very popular, other polls suggest comprehensive reform is also popular. Can these observations be reconciled? What effect is this likely to have on voters looking ahead beyond 2010?
Ruy Teixeira: Yes it is true that the AZ’s draconian immigration law and comprehensive immigration reform are both popular. Consider these results from a bipartisan poll by Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies, conducted for America's Voice. In that poll—conducted after passage of the Arizona law—voters were asked if they supported "comprehensive immigration reform," defined as:
"Under this proposal, the federal government would strengthen border security and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants currently living in the United States would be required to register with the federal government, undergo criminal background checks, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for U.S. citizenship."
This proposal received overwhelming support, 78 percent in favor against 16 percent against, despite all the publicity about the Arizona law. How is that possible given the documented public support for the Arizona law? The reason is very simple: supporters of the Arizona law are also overwhelmingly supportive (84 percent) of comprehensive immigration reform. This suggests that much of the support for the Arizona law reflects an urgent desire for action on the immigration issue rather than a single-minded commitment to the Arizona approach.
Looking ahead, this suggests that comprehensive immigration reform could pay considerable dividends in the long term, both solidifying Hispanic support for the Democrats and responding to the public imperative for action in this area. And the chief effect of the AZ law may be ensuring that most Hispanics don’t bother to give the GOP a second look.
Daily Kos: Sarah Palin is an appealing figure to female evangelicals. Is this a rising demo, or is the "mamma grizzly" appeal a media creation?
Ruy Teixeira: Mama grizzlies seem likely to be just the latest in a long line of media-fueled electoral chimeras for the Republicans. The reality is that female evangelicals are not much of a growth constituency. And white evangelical protestants overall are roughly stable as a proportion of the population. They are no larger at this point than unmarried women—who are a growth constituency—as a proportion of eligible voters.
The growth action on the religious front is among unaffiliated or secular voters, who are the fastest-growing "religious" group in the United States. From 1944 to 2004 the percentage of adults reporting no religious affiliation almost tripled, rising from 5 percent to 14 percent. Projections indicate that by 2024 somewhere between 20-25 percent of adults will be unaffiliated.
This trend, combined with growth among non-Christian faiths and race-ethnic trends, will ensure that in very short order we will no longer be a white Christian nation. Even today, only about 55 percent of adults are white Christians. By 2024 that figure will be down to 45 percent. That means that by the 2016 election (or 2020 at the outside) the United States will cease to be a white Christian nation. Looking even farther down the road, by 2040 white Christians will be only around 35 percent of the population and conservative white Christians (a critical part of the GOP base) only about a third of that—a minority within a minority.
These developments will put increased pressure on the GOP to moderate its socially conservative stance. That stance may appeal strongly to a key segment of their base, but that segment will shrink substantially over time as religious diversity increases. A more moderate approach would have some chance of appealing to this diversity rather than leaving the field wide open for the Democrats. But of course Sarah Palin and her mama grizzlies takes the GOP in precisely the opposite direction.
Daily Kos: What do the demographic trends suggest to you in terms to the continuing (or declining) appeal of the tea party?
Ruy Teixeira: The tea party concentrates in one place the most extreme and reactionary views of the GOP which is already too conservative for most voters in rising demographic groups: Hispanics and other minorities, Millennials, unmarried women, professionals, white college graduates, seculars and so on. Therefore, while tea party activists may help drive up Republican turnout in the 2010 election, an election where the economic situation and historical patterns already ensure the GOP will make significant gains, the longer term political effects for the party will almost certainly be negative. The demographic imperative for the Republicans is to move toward the center to compete for rising, relatively progressive constituencies. But the tea party activists will have none of this and they will have more power, not less, over the GOP after the 2010 elections produce gains—gains the tea party forces will aggressively claim credit for. This is the GOP dilemma—they feel the need the tea party in the short term but are trading off political flexibility in the longer term. This loss of flexibility will, in the end, be very bad for the GOP but at this point I believe they are locked into their current path.
Daily Kos: Thank you, Ruy Teixeira.