Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ethnicity and politics: Wilmot Robertson's argument in The Dispossessed Majority is that American politics is basically a conflict between the white majority and a coalition of white minorities and non-whites. What do General Social Survey data tell us about this?

I limited the sample to roughly the top 10% in terms of occupational prestige in order to focus on the most influential people. Here is the ranking of people who identify themselves as Democrat (strong, not strong, independent--near):

Percent Democrat

Blacks 76.7
Jews 73.6
Mexicans 60.8
Scots 52.5
Danes 51.5
Italians 48.0
East Indians 47.5
Norwegians 46.7

USA 45.6

Irish 44.6
American Indians 42.6
Swedes 39.6
Chinese 37.8
English/Welsh 36.2
Germans 33.4

(Keep in mind that these numbers do not include independents and members of other parties who are liberal). While you can seen a pattern here of blacks, Jews, and Mexicans at the top, and traditional, large white groups at the bottom--English and Germans--the reality is much messier than Robertson's characterization. First, there is a real split in most groups, so ethnicity is frequently not an important factor. Second, Scots, Danes, and Norwegians should not be on the top half of the list, and the Irish, American Indians, and Chinese should not be on the bottom half, if Robertson were right.

Not only are white groups generally split, but many non-white groups are. And one might expect more conformity among high-status members of ethnic groups, but the numbers shown here still generally show a split.

Now, it might be that the numbers would be a little sharper if we looked at actual voting. The sample sizes are too small for the high-status people in each group, but looking at blacks and Jews, 87.7% of elite blacks and 74.1% of elite Jews voted for Gore in 2000. So looking at voting instead of party affiliation shows a higher number for blacks but not for Jews. I would call 88% a rough consensus, but it's harder to say that about 74%, and we can't say it about any of these other groups. There is indeed a connection between ethnicity and politics, but Robertson exaggerates its importance.


  1. Interesting idea of looking at the top 10%. What it looks like is that there is a huge conservative ethnic group that we don't even have a name for -- Anglo/Germans or something like that. Saxons might be a good word for them -- very Sir Walter Scottish.

    I think the Chinese are moving more to the left over time -- the older Chinese-American community was very anti-Communist, but now there are more from the mainland. I imagine you are looking at GSS numbers from a couple of decades so that won't necessarily show up yet.

    The Scottish figures are interesting -- are these Scots or Scots-Irish or both?

  2. Also, please take a look at my comment at https://www2.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=26188478&postID=8973624855987316853

    I think you are close to having an important breakthrough in thinking about American regions.

  3. I believe that in the census many whites persist in calling themselves "Americans". Very likely most of these are of English descent.

    Does GSS insist that the interviewers not select "American"? Does it force them to select a foreign nation?

  4. Robert: The GSS does allow "American." It's not, however, a very popular category, and half who give that response are black.

  5. Steve: one response is "Scottish" and another is "Irish." I don't know how people self-identify when they are Scots-Irish. I'll look into this more later, but perhaps there are old Southerners in this sample, many of whom are conservative Democrats.

    I did read your other comment, and should have time to do another analysis this weekend.

  6. I am Scottish, and I am a registered Democrat. I vote straight Republican though. So I think the actual voting records are a better indicator. I am only registered D because I enjoy all the Dem politicians bowing and scraping for my vote, which they never get. I spend a great deal of time during election time answering the door to politicians, listening to their ideas, and then tearing them apart. I dislike liberals for the most part, although for a long time I thought I was more tolerant than that. I guess I'm not.

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