By Katie Kleinle
As a nation built off little more than drive, determination and a strong immigrant population, America is famous not just for its diversity but for the unique manner in which every faction of society has shaped our past. For centuries, that meant conflict between minority groups and an oppressive majority. In 2014, however, it seems as though the nation has reclaimed its democratic ideals; rather than forcing change through revolution, the ballot is the weapon of choice and the voting booth the battleground in the ongoing fight between those in power and our ever-strengthening minorities.
Within the last decade especially, members of these groups have united to an unprecedented extent; this means a more polarized political scene, but equally as important, extra insight into how and why these Americans vote the way they do.
Race is one of the most obvious influences, with Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians and other minorities overwhelmingly supporting the Democratic Party. Their position is in part because of liberals’ freer immigration policy, but also because immigrants from these groups are statistically more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods (which require the education, healthcare and infrastructure spending they believe is championed by the Democratic party.)
As both a Democrat and an African American himself, Obama naturally appealed to minority voters, and captured 80% of the black, Hispanic and Asian vote in 2012. Considering these people made up 28% of all voters and 37% of the country’s population, they held a significant amount of sway over the election; but going forward, expect this to increase. By 2042 ethnic minorities are expected to make up the majority of the voting population, and thus will hold more power over elections than ever- forever changing the political scene as we know it.
Gender demographics are extremely important as well, and it’s fairly common knowledge that women are more likely to vote left than right for a myriad of reasons. In fact, an entire theory has been developed known as the welfare state dismantlement hypothesis which states that because they have less employment opportunities and are less likely to be financially independent, the average American woman believes themselves more reliant upon the Democratic party, which (at least to a greater extent than Republicans) supports them via welfare and child support programs. They’re more likely to be poor, more likely to be old (women have a longer lifespan), and more likely to be single parents; essentially this means that if women were to gain workplace equality and the ability to financially support themselves despite these obstacles, the disparity between male and female voting patterns would decrease exponentially, and the political balance would shift sharply to the right. Unfortunately for the Republicans, however, it doesn’t seem like that will happen anytime soon.
However, womens’ liberal leanings don’t necessarily mean that the politics of gender always hold true to stereotypes. For example, “women’s issues” like abortion and healthcare are not and have never been major perpetrators of the gender gap; rather, both genders’ views of these problems have a tendency to closely track one another across the spectrum. Further contrary to popular belief, men are also more fickle than women in their voting patterns; that’s because they’re more likely to vote based on the candidate (a factor which changes nearly every election) whereas women prioritize overall party ideology. Because of this, Paul Kellstedt, political scientist at Texas University, notes that slight movement by women to the left or right of the political spectrum is followed by male movement of many more percentage points; this movement can cause the gender gap to expand and shrink rapidly, but usually results in more polarization between the genders’ preferences.
Religion is another factor following Americans to the polls. Prior to the 1970’s, churchgoing patterns had very little correspondence with individuals’ political preferences. This changed in 1972 as liberals became more socially radical, pushing churchgoers sharply towards conservatism (and the Republican party in particular); they’ve remained there ever since. Because of increasing Democratic support for abortion, contraceptives and other secular views, don’t expect religious allegiances to shift anytime soon.
Obviously, life isn’t perfect for all Americans. Luckily for every faction of society, however, democracy is thriving—and with their newfound unification, it’s more likely than ever that a unified ballot is the panacea for minority woes.
By Katie Kleinle
While America stood by and watched the outsourcing of the 1990s choke manufacturing and decimate the working class, not many were surprised when the last Wellstone spinning plant in Gaffney, South Carolina shut down—supposedly for good. But this September brought two things for the area that for years was referred to by locals as a “ghost town”: the reopening of not one but three textile plants, and hope for a fresh start.
What’s shocking, however, is that this story isn’t an isolated incident. Gaffney’s reopening is indicative of a trend occurring across the nation as hundreds of companies (including giants like Apple, General Electric, Ford, Chrysler, Whirlpool, Lenovo, Hon-eywell and Caterpillar) rush to the forefront of a new trend known as “reshoring,” in which companies that formerly manufactured abroad in nations like China move production back to the United States.
Yet to fully comprehend what reshoring is and why it’s happening how, it’s important that we understand why American companies moved their operations abroad in the first place. Years ago (specifically from the mid-2000’s until halfway through 2012) outsourcing was by far the cheapest way for American companies to produce their goods. Most other countries had little of the expensive environmental regulations found in America, employees were more than willing to work for incredibly low pay and manu-facturers had very few costly obligations to their workers. Because of this lack of strict regulation, business practices in these nations were often less than healthy, but they were permitted to continue because the governments of these countries (including Chi-na, Vietnam, and Argentina) benefited from the resulting economic growth.
Recently, however, this pattern folded in on itself. The money poured into developing nations’ economies when factories were built there created a rising middle class, most of whom are now financially secure and can afford to demand more pay and safer working conditions than when Americans first began hiring in their impoverished areas. Because of this and increased regulation on the governments’ part, the costs of manufacturing in some of the nations we formerly relied on most have skyrocketed over the course of the last two years. This effect is occurring internationally to some extent, but it’s the most obvious in China. According to Hong Kong-based investment group CSLA, by 2015, Chinese wages and manufacturing costs are actually expected to overtake the cost of American production. Because of this, in an effort to cut costs, many American companies are already beginning to abandon operations there or plan to do so in the near future.
This brings us back to our concept of reshoring. Obviously, after leaving China, these manufacturing jobs have to go somewhere. Reshoring and choosing to produce in America means faster turnaround time, decreased transportation costs when moving products into the American market and a significantly lower toll on the environment, which, combined with the assurance that no human rights abuses are being committed in factories, serves overall as an excellent public relations strategy. Furthermore, many American companies have turned to automation and use robots to produce goods, meaning that labor costs will be roughly the same no matter what country corporations choose to manufacture in and making American production cheaper than ever before.
Yet despite the positive incentives, the future of American manufacturing remains uncertain. In a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year of 156 American-based companies, a mere 15% said they would definitely be bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US in anytime in the future, with 30% saying they would consider it as an option and another 35% declining to answer altogether because they claimed the topic was of a sensitive nature. The jobs these companies spoke of bringing back to America are, for the most part, relatively insignificant compared to the numbers they employ abroad; the vast majority of manufacturing will remain overseas after factories reopen in America anyway. Even these few jobs aren’t guaranteed; another strategy that’s often even cheaper than opening factories in the US is to move operations to an entirely different country like the Philippines rather than deal with the expense of operations at home.
So in the end, Gaffney’s story may turn out to be a fluke. But there are real and positive signs that American manufacturing is coming back, and only time will tell if we can fully harness their potential.