Published August 4, 2014
“America’s Prospects: Promise and Peril”
The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.
June 18, 2014
Speakers: Karlyn Bowman, American Enterprise Institute
Karlyn Bowman: Thank you very much Yuval for that very generous introduction. I, too, am very grateful to the Bradley Foundation for all of the support I and AEI have received over the years for so many of the programs and projects that you’ve supported. These symposia in particular run first, as you’ve all suggested, by the estimable Bill Schambra, and now by his worthy successor, Yuval, I think have been particularly important in focusing us on challenges for the future. Yuval has asked me to talk about demographic changes and how they might affect the political and the policy landscape going forward. So, I’m going to start in perhaps the most obvious place, the 2010 census.
From almost every angle, the 2010 census showed that our demographic transformation is proceeding even faster than expected. You are probably familiar with the main outlines of the story. The Hispanic and Asian populations both grew by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2010. Latinos are 16 percent of the population, up from 9 percent in 1990. Almost a quarter of all children are Hispanic and they are a majority of all children in California and Texas. Asians are around percent of the population. The African American population, at 13 percent, is growing slowly.
Looking more broadly at the minority population, The National Journal reported that the minority share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, reaching levels higher than demographers had predicted, almost everywhere. The next America, according to The Journal, is arriving ahead of schedule. In North Carolina, where the Democrats held their 2012 convention, the Hispanic population grew 111 percent between 2000 and 2010. It was a good move for Democrats to raise their profile in a key state, although Obama didn’t win it in 2012.
William Frey, the Brookings Institution demographer, reported that the 2010 census reveals an absolute decline in the number of white young people in the last decade and a smaller decline among black young people under age 18. Hispanics and Asians accounted for all of the net growth in the under age 18 population. The racial reordering among the young, according to Frey, is on the most important stories of the new census. Frey reminds us that Hispanics and Asians are crucial because they are juxtaposed against an aging, white population.
The changes in our racial and ethnic composition prompted the demographer, Joel Kotkin, to write that, “demography is the best friend the Democrats have.” In 1976, 90 percent of the electorate was white, in 2012, 72 percent was. In 2012 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.
Although their political clout is growing significantly, Hispanics have what Bill Frey calls a “translation problem.” They’re punching below their demographic weight at this point. Out of every 100 whites, 78 percent are eligible to vote, citizens and age eligible. For Hispanics, many of whom are too young to vote and not citizens, the numbers look quite different, 44 out of every 100 Hispanics are eligible to vote. To use the example of North Carolina again, where we will have a very competitive Senate contest this fall, just 113,000 Hispanics are registered to vote, making up 1.7 percent of the registered voters there. As I said, Hispanics are clearly punching below their demographic weight.
What do we know about Hispanic attitudes? To some degree they are more conservative than whites on social issues, especially in the first generation. One survey question I like very much asked whether it’s better for children to live in their parent’s home until they marry. Nearly 70 percent of Latinos agree with that statement, but far more, 81 percent, of first generation Latinos agreed, only 45 percent of third generation Latinos agree. Most Hispanics favor a robust role for government, perhaps influenced by Catholic social teaching, or by attitudes about the role of the government in their native countries. As the Hispanic population grows, we will experience significant political and cultural changes and perhaps even, given the week’s news, changes in sports preferences. Forty-five percent of Hispanics are soccer fans, compared to a quarter of the rest of the population.
While I’m talking about Hispanics broadly, patterns of assimilation are of course very different. Hispanics in Florida have different backgrounds and experiences from Latinos of Mexican origins in California or Texas or Puerto Ricans in New York. Even given the differences it is important to remember that nearly six out of ten Hispanic births are to people already living here, these children are citizens. And just to give you an example of some of the most recent changes in the politics –in political views of Hispanics, The Wall Street Journal poll this morning reported that in January 2013, 67 percent of Hispanics approved of the job that Barak Obama was doing, today that’s 44 percent. So, there are an extraordinary number of opportunities here.
In recent weeks there have been a number of news stories about race and ethnicity reporting among Hispanics and questions the census will need to address as the Agency approaches the 2020 census. After analyzing census forms for 168 million Americans, researchers at Pew learned that 10 million people check different race or Hispanic origin questions in 2010, than had in 2000. Further complicating this picture is intermarriage which is growing and will change the face of America. We do not know how much intermarriage changes attitudes. The 2010 census reported that interracial or interethnic married couple households grew from 7 to 10 percent of the population. Intermarriage will grow, blurring already fluid categories.
Here’s another feature of the next America. The 2010 census revealed some significant continuity and some surprises in terms of geography. It confirmed, of course, that our population continues its shift to the south and the west. The demographer, Wendell Cox, notes that in the first census, after World War I in 1950, the East and the Midwest accounted for 58 percent of the nation’s population, and the South made up 42 percent. Today the ratios are nearly reversed, with 60 percent of the population living in the South and the West and only 40 percent in the East and Midwest. The 24 fastest growing states are all in the South and the West in the 2010 census.
Mobility is at historically low levels today, but of the groups that are moving, Hispanics are moving more than others. Cox notes that California, the state that we once called a political bellwether, added more people than any other state in every decade since 1920, but not in the 2010 census. Texas added more people than California did. Texas added four representatives to its ranks after the 2010 census California did not gain a seat for the first time since 1850. Today Texas is the true bellwether in terms of promoting successful diversity. As Joel Kotkin observed, demography favors the Democrats, but geography still favors the Republicans.
Kristen is going to talk about the Millennials, so let me say a word about the other age of the –the other end of the age spectrum. Seniors were 13 percent of the population in the 2010 census. They’ll be about 20 percent of the population by 2050. The new census date tell us that the number of centenarians has roughly doubled in the past 20 years and experts are predicting that that number will double again. Older voters are more likely to turn out to vote than younger Americans. Older voters have become more Republican and conservative over the past decade, with the number of older voters labeling themselves as conservative up significantly in the past decade.
Those 65 and older are the fastest growing age segment of the population. The media tends to see this as a bad news story, all these old people living so long, contributing to high end of life healthcare costs. And that’s true, of course, but we could also look at it as a good news story in that the advances we’re making in health have increased longevity. Seniors work habits, lifestyles will be very different from what they were 20 years ago, and those will continue to change.
Let’s turn to another change that has had, and will continue to have consequences for our politics. America is in many ways a very religious country. We are one of the most, if not the most religious people among the people of Western nations.
But let me digress here for a quick minute. Many years ago, in the 1930’s Gallup asked whether or not you would vote for a woman for president, and here is the exact language, “If she were qualified in every other way.” Needless to say, they changed the wording of that question the next year. But since that time, Gallup has added many other groups to the list. They asked people whether they were voted for a qualified Catholic for president, a Mormon, a Baptist, someone who’s gay, a Muslim and other groups.
In 1956, the first time Gallup asked about atheists, only 18 percent said that they would vote for a qualified atheist for president. In Gallup’s latest asking, from 2012, 54 percent said that they would. Of the nine groups that Gallup inquired about, voting for an atheist was the least popular. The resistance underscores the religiosity of Americans.
That said, the religious landscape is changing in important ways. We’ve seen significant growth in the number of pure seculars, what the pollsters properly refer to –or it’s popularly referred to as N-O-N-E-S. Data from the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, shows that the group has grown from about 7 percent in 1972 to about 20 percent today. Born again or evangelical Christians, by contrast, have been a significant chunk of the population in Gallup polls taken over the past 20 years, about 4 in 10 describe themselves that way. Gallup has long had an interest in religion. IN 2008 the organization started doing daily tracking, building huge samples and allowing us to see more clearly what some changes like the raise of the unaffiliated might mean. Frank Newport, the president of Gallup, argues using hundreds of thousands of interviews collected since 2008, that, “Although the number of unaffiliated is rising, we do not see other changes and indicators of the importance of religion.”
He argues that the growth in the Nones comes from people who weren’t very religious to being. Today people tell the pollsters that religion is losing it’s influence in American life, and when the follow up question is asked, most people say that’s a bad thing. Young people are more likely than any other age group to be unaffiliated, but that may change as they marry and start families. A famous survey done in the late 1980’s by Yankelovich Partners asked Baby Boomers to think back to the time that they were 18 to 29, in other words to think back to the 1960’s. Sixty-four percent said that they had become more conservative since the 1960’s, and the reason most frequently given, family responsibilities. More Boomers in the Yankelovich survey said that they were Democrats than Republicans, but the movement was all in the Republican direction.
The degree of religiosity tends to be a better predictor of political attitudes these days than denomination. The Catholic who goes to mass every week has more in common with the Protestant or a Jew who attends services weekly, than that Catholic does with people of any denomination who don’t attend church at all.
Still, we’ve seen significant changes in denominational strength. Unlike many of the countries of Western Europe with state churches, there’s always been a more open marketplace for religion in America and a great deal of churning.
Here’s one of the fascinating stats. Catholics have been about a quarter of the U.S. population for a very long time. The Pew Religious Landscape Survey, however, reported that Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group. These losses have been offset by people who have switched but mostly by the significant number of Catholics who have immigrated in recent decades, particularly from Latin America. Hispanic immigrants are shoring up the Catholic Church’s membership. But there is now even newer evidence that some Hispanics are moving away from the Catholic Church to more evangelical denominations.
Related to the rise of the ones is what I call the rise of non-judgmentalism. It’s hard to find direct evidence and surveys to support my contention, but reading between the lines I believe it’s there. Here’s some examples. While support for gay marriage has solidified in a majority, large majorities say it is unacceptable for them personally. Attitudes on abortion have hardly moved at all since the early 1970’s, but abortion is not acceptable for most people.
In the 1930’s the Roper organization asked people about whether or not premarital sex was wicked. I’ve tried to persuade my pollster friends to ask that question again, though I’ve found no takers. But when the pollsters started asking about premarital sex, on a yearly basis, in the early 1970’s, a majority by that time already said that it was not wrong. Today that’s about two-thirds. In the same new survey, 58 percent said that having a child out of wedlock was morally acceptable, up from 45 percent in 2002.
Republicans have not changed their views on this question over the past decade; 40 percent of them say it’s acceptable. But Democrats have moved 20 percentage points to 72 percent saying it is morally acceptable. Gallup notes that Democrats have shifted in a more accepting direction on the 12 issues Gallup asks about, while Republicans have stayed put. Part of this is what we call a composition effect. The Democratic Party is younger and youth attitudes on many of these questions are more liberal.
In a column last year, the demographer, Joel Kotkin, asked whether or not the family was finished. People are marrying later, fertility rates have been declining, and nearly half of all women in the next census will be unmarried. The proportion of childless women, those in the 40 to 44 year old range, has doubled from 10 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. The reasons are many and varied, but it’s not clear to me exactly what turns these attitudes and statistics around. People still want to marry and they say their families give them great satisfaction.
In a new report this week on polarization of the electorate, Pew reports that over the past 20 years, the nation has moved slightly to the left. Issues such as acceptance of homosexuality and immigration once divided the Democrats and they no longer do. That may be why we see the needle moving ever so slightly in the liberal direction on ideological identification. Ideological identification has been pretty stable over the past quarter century with self- identified conservatives outnumbering liberals. Still, the percentage identifying themselves as liberals is inching up. Terms such as “progressive” don’t have much traction. And the proportion of self- identified Libertarians hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. When Gallup asked people to think about social issues, the movement has been in the liberal direction. When asked about economic issues, 42 percent in their latest poll said that they were conservative, a similar response to the one given in 1999, the first time Gallup asked that question. Twenty-one percent said they were liberal on the issue, up from 16 percent in 1999.On both questions, about a third put themselves in the middle.
Up to this point I’ve been talking about the moving target of demographics, but I want to try to answer a question that you’ve all posed to us for this session. In what ways has Obama changed us? Here are a few indicators that I watch.
There has been no change in the proportion of Americans describing themselves as patriots. But of course people are less confident of their fellow countrymen on this score. In a recent Pew poll, far more people said that the term “a patriotic person described them well them,” and gave that answer about the terms, an environmentalist, a supporter of gay rights or a religious person.
Although the question isn’t asked very often, a large majority, in the 70 percent range, say that America is the best country in the world. Only a small proportion of around 10 percent say they’d like to leave. The military is still the most highly respected institution in American life though American’s reluctant internationalism is much more potent than it was a decade again. We’re still internationalists, but we’re tired of shouldering the burdens and especially paying for them.
Ever since Al Gore and Dan Quayle lamented the decline of the family dinner hour, in the run up to the 2000 campaign, I’ve been watching poll findings on this subject. NBC News and The Wall Street Journal recently updated a question that they asked about family dinner hours during that campaign. Perhaps surprisingly almost the same proportion, around 60 percent, say that they have a family dinner at least five times a week.
In that same 15 year time span, the proportion that read a newspaper in print at least three times a week declined from 79 to 47 percent. The proportion that said someone in their household has a tattoo rose from 21 to 40 percent. Although most of us don’t want our sons or daughters to choose politics as a life’s work, that’s been true in Gallup polls since the 1950’s, we still believe that our sons and daughters could grow up to be president.
Finally, let me touch on views about the American Dream. It has different meanings and those have changed over time. The belief that if you work hard you can get ahead is widely shared, though it’s a little more fragile than it has been in the past. Most people still believe that they have or will be able to reach their version of the American Dream.
But a big change that we see appears below those national level indicators. Whites no longer believe that their children will do better than they have done. African-Americans and Hispanics are very confident on this score. This is one of the most significant changes that I’ve seen in public opinion data, and I hope that Glenn and Henry might address its origins. Thank you very much.