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.