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December 13, 2012 9:24 AM Party of Angry Old White Folks Won’t Go Away

By Ed Kilgore

There are some startling new projections out today from the U.S. Census Bureau based on the official 2010 census, that reinforce even more strongly than prior findings that the U.S. will soon become a majority-minority country where past demographics persist among the oldest segments of the population, even as the next generations look wildly different.

Overall, non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority status in 2043. But the transformation is not so fast among old folks:

Projections show the older population would continue to be predominately non-Hispanic white, while younger ages are increasingly minority. Of those age 65 and older in 2060, 56.0 percent are expected to be non-Hispanic white, 21.2 percent Hispanic and 12.5 percent non-Hispanic black. In contrast, while 52.7 percent of those younger than 18 were non-Hispanic white in 2012, that number would drop to 32.9 percent by 2060. Hispanics are projected to make up 38.0 percent of this group in 2060, up from 23.9 percent in 2012.

There are all sorts of implications you can draw from these numbers. But one of interest to Political Animals is that there will remain for decades a powerful constituency of older white Americans who vote at disproportionately high levels and who will be living in a country radically different from the place where they grew up. So for all the talk of the demographic dooming of today’s right-wing GOP, there will be a base of support for this kind of politics for quite some time.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • bluestatedon on December 13, 2012 9:44 AM:

    This is why the sporadic muttering from the white precincts of the Old Confederacy about secession is going to grow into a dull roar within the next decade.

  • c u n d gulag on December 13, 2012 9:49 AM:

    So, Alan Simpson still has some hope for the Presidency!

  • BillFromPA on December 13, 2012 9:54 AM:

    I fail to see a silver lining for the GOP here. Yes, there are O'Reilly viewers like my 87 yr old mom who can be fooled into voting against their own interests and those of subsequent SS beneficiaries, but her 62 yr old, white son (me) will be of no use to the GOP going forward, and as the repugs transparently continue their attempts to destroy popular federal programs they'll be driving old whiteys out, not converting them.

  • Derek on December 13, 2012 9:56 AM:

    But the white old folks of 2060 are the mostly liberal/Democratic youngsters of today. That's a bit different than the current cohort of white boomer (and older) seniors.

  • NealB on December 13, 2012 10:12 AM:

    White people born from 1980 through 2010 are surely more liberal than the codgers that make up a big part of the right-wing Republican base today. Old white folks in the post-WWI through LBJ era were much more liberal than white galoots are now. There's no reason to think caucasions in their teens, 20s, and 30s today will change their political stripes so much that by the time they're in their 60s and 70s they're going to become racist, know-nothing Republicans like most of the senior base of the "right wing GOP" today.

  • T2 on December 13, 2012 10:18 AM:

    I think its both unfair and unwise to lump every old white guy into the Republican party.
    Old white guys don't all live in the South, you know. Some old white guys are in unions. Some old white guys live in Cal,Ore, Wash, NY.
    I'm an old white guy from the South and I've never voted for a Republican in my life.

  • avahome on December 13, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Amen T2! I live with an old white guy who was drafted and fought in VietNam. He refuses to vote to this very day.
    Let's all remember that the only person you can control is ourselves. PEACE

  • Gangis Khan on December 13, 2012 10:31 AM:

    So for all the talk of the demographic dooming of today’s right-wing GOP, there will be a base of support for this kind of politics for quite some time.

    I would just point out that the Democratic Party did once completely reduce its opposition (the Federalists) to a rump caucus, and entered a brief period of effective one-party rule. For all of the talk that Republicans "have to" moderate their message, you are correct that there exist all the incentives necessary not to do so, and the results of that are not without precedent.

  • PLopatin on December 13, 2012 10:59 AM:

    As others have noted, this assessment is too facile. You need to look at this as an age cohort issue - what are the political positions of those non-Hispanic whites today that will make up the same cohort in 2060. Today's 30-year old non-Hispanic white will be 78 in 2060. Most of us don't change our real values as we age(even if we wax nostalgic for imaginary good-old-days), so the future non-Hispanic whites will be unlikely to support the racist, authoritarian Republican party. Forward!

  • Rich on December 13, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Demographic arguments and projections have a way of not working out. The population shifts that Textiera pointed out ages ago have not worked to the Dems' advanatage because voter registration and turnout are much lower among Hispanics than non-Hispanics. OTOH, no one has paid attention to Asians until recently. Successive cohorts of older whites may differ in their politics from the current cohort, which includes a lot of diseffected former/children of Dems. Another consideration is that life expectancy is dropping among less educated older whites (paralleling what's been seen among their African American counterparts for awhile) and that may affect their impact on the electorate in the future.

  • rayspace on December 13, 2012 11:08 AM:

    "But one of interest to Political Animals is that there will remain for decades a powerful constituency of older white Americans who vote at disproportionately high levels and who will be living in a country radically different from the place where they grew up."

    Yes, but...

    You're assuming that old people in 2060 will have the same politics as old people in 2012. Not necessarily true. I will be 99 years old in 2060, and I am part of the penultimate age demographic now. We split fairly evenly, with a slight edge for the Democrats in national elections, IIRC. While there are a lot of us who are nutty Tea Partiers (I've been defriended by 3 of them this year alone), we are also a demographic that is more comfortable with diversity and technological change than our parents' generation.

    Also, the older demographic in 2060 will include people 20-30 years younger than I will be then. This group is already more Democratic than my age group is now.

    What I'm getting at is, should our voting habits remain the same, the older demographic is more likely to be split down the middle in 2060, rather than being as pro-Republican as older folks are now. All is not lost.

  • T2 on December 13, 2012 11:08 AM:

    The Republican Party has and will continue to rely on racial intolerance. That happens to manifest itself in white, older people found in great concentrations in the South (hence the Republican's "Southern Strategy")...but there are plenty of racially intolerant younger people in that area also. As they age, they'll still be crackers.
    The story with this Census thing is that the racists will soon be outnumbered by the target of their racial animosity. I'm not sure age has that much to do with it.

  • Ken D. on December 13, 2012 11:14 AM:

    A couple of thoughts on the coming non-white majority that don't get mentioned. "White" is customarily defined about as narrowly as possible; almost any identifiable mixture makes the person "non-white", and there are valid historical reasons for that. The "non-white" majority, however, will include a large block of "partly or mostly white and comfortable with it." Secondly, deep into the 20th Century it was extremely difficult to be both non-white and also stably in the middle class, even broadly defined. That has changed, and will continue to do so. "Non-white" will mean something very different in socioeconomic terms in 2043 than it did in 1943.

  • Mimikatz on December 13, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Reality has a way of upsetting projections. As many have pointed out, by 2030 the over 65s will be people born in the 70s. The conservative "young" cohort are those who came of age under Reagan and they will be in their 70s by then. In other words, people turning 65 will then get progressively more liberal in outlook.

    But the big reality that all these projections ignore is how climate change will shift people's ideas about the role of government and their attitudes toward the elites who have not only done nothing to prepare for it but have in the case of the fossil fuel industry and the GOP actively made things worse. By 2030, more likely by 2020, the reality will be inescapable and the future increasingly a nightmare, and this may get younger people to become more active and shove the old farts aside.

  • hornblower on December 13, 2012 12:31 PM:

    This "happy" old white guy has never voted for a Republican and never will. Please don't couple angry with old or white with conservative. There are plenty of us boomers who can sift through the nonsense. We remain optimistic about the future for our children and grandchildren.

  • Barbara on December 13, 2012 12:39 PM:

    Dare I suggest that especially outside of the south, religiosity and urban/rural divide account for much of the difference in voting patterns that we often view only through the prism of race? That is, (even in the south) the voting patterns of non-religious, urban whites tend to be very different from religious and rural whites, even in the same family! Which suggests that the voting patterns of today's white 30 something, who are quite a bit less religious than their forebears, are likely to be quite a bit different from that of their parents and certainly their grandparents.

  • Justin Russo on December 13, 2012 12:42 PM:

    The Republican Party has and will continue to rely on racial intolerance.

    Given that racism isn't a whites-only failing, I can see a future GOP modifying their message to attract bigots of all stripes. Anti-black Hispanics perhaps, or anti-Asian African Americans.

    Stranger things have happened.

  • janinsanfran on December 13, 2012 4:37 PM:

    But Ed -- you are in California, so you know how this goes. We're about 15 years ahead of the country at large on the demographic transition and the Republicans have reduced themselves to a hatefulbut ever more impotent rump.

    About 40 percent of the remaining old white people are not now and never will be part of the racially intolerant party. People of color don't have to be an absolute majority of voters for the dynamic to change -- they just have to be more. Even in CA, the electorate will still be majority white in 2040, but we're already over the hump. This doesn't take unanimity, just good politics.

  • jefft452 on December 13, 2012 10:18 PM:

    “The population shifts that Textiera pointed out ages ago have not worked to the Dems' advanatage because voter registration and turnout are much lower among Hispanics than non-Hispanics.”

    Reagan once got 60% of the white vote, and it got him 48 states
    Romney got 60% of the white vote, and he lost badly


    So population shifts seem to have worked to the Dems' advanatage

  • rfb99 on December 14, 2012 8:29 AM:

    Don't ignore Asians. I attended a UC Berkeley alumni re-union a while age. The alumni were nearly all more or less distinguished looking elderly white men and women. The current students on the other hand were mostly Asian. Note these students will be California's leaders of tomorrow.

  • Patricia Shannon on December 14, 2012 4:15 PM:

    Not necessarily great for progressives. Hispanics tend to be conservative. Even if they vote for Democrats, they might choose conservative Democrats in primaries.