Monday, November 26, 2012

A Modified Mission For Conservative Think Tanks

Demography!  Demography!  Demography!  The 2012 presidential election revealed the following electoral landscape.
Based on exit polls, President Obama’s share of voters in the different ethnic, religious, and gender groups was as follows:

93% African American
85% Muslim American (CAIR survey)
73% Asian American
71% Latino American (most rapidly growing segment of U.S. population)
69% Jewish American
91% Gay American (overlaps with above categories)
55% Women (68% single women)
60% Young (18-29)
60% American Born Cubans in Florida

Governor Romney’s share:

62% White men (gradually declining share of the electorate)
56% White women (majority married, but married women are a declining share of all women)
55% Cuban Born Americans in Florida

E pluribus unum (from many one) is a phrase on the Seal of the United States.  That phrase is steadily giving way to E pluribus pluribus (multi-culturalism), or what I prefer to call a “plural society.”

The growing Hispanic bloc has thrown in its lot with the Democrat Party to gain influence over policy, secure posts in high office, and obtain more public sector rewards.  Astute Hispanic leaders will use identity to mobilize co-ethnics to achieve power, a strategy that will succeed if Hispanics feel unwelcome in the world of conservatives.

In 1972 I published with Kenneth A. Shepsle, Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability.  We updated the book 2009, chronicling the events that took place in the 18 ethnically-divided countries analyzed in the 1972 edition.  We also considered trends that were taking place in the United States that were likely to change the character of American elections.

On pages 221-22, we wrote:

    “...a potentially new transformation is gradually taking place in the United States.  It has been revealed in the debate over extremely contentious immigration bills to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants, largely Spanish-speaking from Mexico and Latin America, and millions more who seek legal entry into the United States every year, largely for economic opportunity.  Some analysts are concerned that this large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants may not assimilate into the dominant culture as readily as did previous generations from Europe.  As Spanish-speakers grow in number and are perceived in unified group terms, the quest for the “ethnic” vote could play a larger role in American national politics.  This would generate a greater degree of nationwide ethnicization of American politics than in previous generations, when ethnic differences tended to be localized to individual regions, states, or towns.”

Plural societies, in which ethnic divisions dominate politics, generally fail to sustain high growth.  The U.S. now risks lingering slow growth, unless a way can be found to persuade Hispanics that high growth, not redistributive politics, better serves their long-run interests.

Conservative think tanks have been a key source of ideas for the conservative movement.  They produce, in my opinion, better economic policy proposals than their liberal think tank counterparts.  Good conservative ideas may be a necessary condition for good policy, but they are not sufficient.  Conservative ideas won’t be implemented unless conservative politicians occupy the White House and Congress.

Reestablishing the Reagan-era success of conservative think tanks does not entail the continued (re)production of books, papers, and editorials pushing for smaller government, low taxes, free trade, entitlement reform, school choice, health savings accounts, deregulation, domestic energy expansion, conservative values, property rights, and strong defense–the mainstays of conservative think tanks for decades.  Rather, what is needed is the spread and acceptance of these ideas among the new demographic electorate.  This goal requires repackaging, creative marketing, and perhaps some fresh faces.

Buena suerte!

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