The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution

By Ron Unz | September 21, 2011

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Non-Whites and Blacks

Consider an interesting datapoint. It is certainly true that the over the last century those states with the smallest white majorities have generally had names like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama, and these have exhibited a very distinctive brand of white politics and race relations. But the least white state of all has actually projected a very different cultural image.

Whites were a minority in Hawaii at the time of statehood and have always been so, with the relative numbers of whites and Asians shifting somewhat based upon the various flows of migrants. Furthermore, the original white colonists and plantation elites historically had had a quite conflicted relationship both with the Native Hawaiian population whose leadership they supplanted and also with the large numbers of Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian workers originally imported as impoverished plantation laborers.

Yet although the local Republican Party has generally skewed toward the 25 percent of the population that is white, while the Democrats have been more popular among the majority Asians, the state’s reputation has overwhelmingly been one of easygoing race relations, a high degree of intermarriage, and a complete lack of vicious political conflict. Ideologically, Hawaii’s white minority seems to think and vote much more like the racially liberal residents of 95 percent white Vermont than as members of a racially polarized minority bloc, locked in endless political struggle with its non-white opponents.

Perhaps Hawaii is just a unique case, being a chain of small tropical islands located thousands of miles off the mainland and heavily dependent upon tourism for its economy. But there is an additional example. After Hawaii, the state with the next lowest white percentage throughout most of the 20th century was New Mexico, with the number of whites fluctuating at around half the total depending upon the ebbs and flows of the white and Hispanic populations, before eventually falling to 40 percent in 2010.

And although New Mexico hardly possesses Hawaii’s enormously positive social image—it is mostly rural with a small economy—it has also never developed the reputation of being a boiling racial cauldron, with whites and Hispanics locked in a bitter battle for power. Mention “New Mexico” and the popular images that spring to mind probably revolve around UFOs, vistas of great natural beauty, and government research laboratories, not longstanding racial conflict.

These examples lead to the suspicion that the history of bitter racial politics across most of the Deep South may represent less a conflict of white vs. non-white than one of white vs. black, and this seems quite plausible. After all, slavery and its legacy have for centuries constituted the deepest wound in American society, provoking a bloody Civil War which cost the lives of almost one third of all white Southern men of military age. The history of black/white racial relations is arguably the single most significant element in American political history, so we should hardly be surprised if it continues to heavily influence the politics of numerous states and cities, including those outside the South.

By contrast, although relations between whites and various other groups—Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians—have sometimes been hostile or even violent, these conflicts have never been nearly as long nor intense and are more like the often contentious relationships between various white ethnic groups. As our schoolbooks endlessly emphasize, black/white relations do indeed constitute a unique aspect of American history.

•   •   •

These alternate hypotheses about the underlying sources of white political behavior may be explored empirically by examining the electoral data across the 50 states. Like it or not, today’s Republican Party does indeed constitute the “white party,” drawing almost all of its national votes from whites, while the Democratic Party serves as the “mixed party,” with roughly comparable support from whites and non-whites. Therefore, white support for Republicans, particularly at the national level, may serve as a reasonable proxy for a state’s apparent degree of “white racial consciousness,” whether implicit or explicit.

Under the “Sailer Hypothesis,” white alignment with the Republicans should be heavily influenced by the white share of the population, with the residents of lily-white states exhibiting little racial consciousness, while those living in states in which whites have slender or non-existent majorities would tilt much more heavily Republican. A second possibility to consider might be called the “Hispanic Hypothesis,” in which the heavy influx of Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, pushes whites toward the harder-line Republicans; since the vast majority of today’s Hispanics come from a relatively recent immigrant background, a state’s overall Hispanic population can be used as a good approximation for this independent variable. Finally, there is the “Black Hypothesis,” in which the long history of black/white racial conflict is assumed to be the primary factor, and the percentage of blacks in the local population is what generally influences white political behavior.

For the sake of simplicity and to minimize the confounding impact of local political issues and personalities, the easiest output variable to examine would be the percentage of the white vote that supported the Republican presidential ticket over the last 20 years. On a population-weighted basis, the correlation results for elections from 1992 through 2008 across the 50 states are as shown in the chart below.

The results seem conclusive. The correlations between the Hispanic percentage of each state and white voter preferences are approximately zero for all presidential elections, implying that the presence of large Hispanic populations appears to have virtually no impact upon white political alignment, either one way or the other.

By contrast, the evidence for apparent black/white racial conflict being the driving force that prompts whites to vote Republican seems very strong: the correlations between the size of the black population and the degree of white GOP support range from 0.43 to 0.70, with a mean of 0.55, being both quite substantial and very consistent over time.

The data regarding the “Sailer Hypothesis” is bit more interesting, with the correlations between a state’s overall non-white percentage and white Republican alignment being small but noticeable, ranging between 0.14 and 0.31, with a mean of 0.20.  However, we must remember that a considerable fraction of America’s non-whites are blacks, with the ratio declining from around half in 1992 to about one-third by 2008, and obviously the strong black correlations impact the non-white result. In fact, the Sailer Hypothesis curve closely tracks the weighted average of the Hispanic and Black Hypothesis curves, the difference being mostly due to America’s small but growing Asian population. Thus, any “Sailer Effect” in white voting patterns appears almost entirely due to the black portion of the non-white population and is therefore merely a statistical artifact.

•   •   •

In many respects, this conclusion merely constitutes a quantitative confirmation of the conventional political wisdom, which stretches back for many decades. For example, in the aftermath of the successful Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, prominent journalists Thomas and Mary Edsall published the widely praised Chain Reaction, which emphasized the underlying racial factors prompting America’s political realignment, and several similar books appeared around the same time, notably Peter Brown’s Minority Party. Numerous other authors had earlier made the same general point about the politics of the “white backlash” vote in the 1960s and 1970s, the era of urban unrest and forced busing.

In recent years, the Republican Party has grown quite embarrassed over these roots of its modern political rise and has therefore made considerable efforts to downplay such underlying racial factors relative to more innocuous issues such as support for low taxes or small government or patriotism or even traditional religious values, and this sustained effort to rewrite history partly accounts for much current amnesia. But the data speaks for itself.

There is another, more subtle reason why so many of America’s political elites and pundits tend to miss the clear signs of this obvious racial relationship, and it becomes apparent when we examine the scatterplot distribution of these election results for the most recent 2008 presidential vote, including the 50 states and also the District of Columbia. (Scatterplots for the previous presidential elections look very similar.) The results for the individual states mostly follow the sort of distribution we would expect for a strongly correlated result, but there is one huge exception: white voting patterns in D.C. constitute an enormously strong outlier. By a wide margin D.C. is simultaneously more heavily black than any state while also having whites who are the most liberal and Democratic in their voting behavior.

D.C.’s population is much smaller than that of nearly all states, so including it in our weighted correlation calculation would have only slightly shifted the results. But in the real world of today’s centralized political culture, the world of politicians and media pundits and political journalists, D.C. ranks as a colossus in mind share, playing a huge role in shaping ideological perceptions and therefore carrying a weight probably greater than that of California or Texas, or perhaps even both combined. And under such a mind-share weighting, that single city filled with a population consisting almost entirely of blacks and very liberal whites serves to substantially mask elite perceptions of the stark racial dynamics that influence political ideologies almost everywhere else in the country.

Next Page: An Anti-Immigration Backlash >

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