Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Queens Conundrum: More Diverse, Less Democratic

In light of the latest Census data release, which highlighted the sharply increased race-ethnic diversity of the country, it's important to have a clear-eyed view of what these changes do and do not mean for American politics. They indisputably mean that parties and politicians will have to pay more attention to burgeoning nonwhite constituencies. But it is not at all obvious that these changes necessarily portend an easier time for Democrats, once we take into account recent political trends.
I refer you here to a piece on Matt Thomas' new substack Vulgar Marxism. Thomas is a political analyst and in operative in New York who, interestingly, is active in New York DSA. He appears to be very oriented toward class politics, which allows him to see political developments that some of his woker comrades, not to mention many left-leaning Democrats, seem to have a very hard time understanding.
He focuses in this excellent piece on rising diversity in Queens and considers that in tandem with recent, and eye-opening, political trends. I commend Thomas both for his Queens-specific analysis as well as his sharp understanding of what other data from the 2020 election tell us about what trends actually drove the result. This is a question that countless pundits and activists manage to get consistently wrong, despite the clarity now afforded by available data.
Back in May, the New York Times reported that the country’s increasing racial diversity was not improving the Democratic Party’s fortunes at the ballot box to the degree that many observers had expected. According to Nate Cohn, the paper’s data guru:
“The widely held assumption that [Republicans] will struggle as white voters decline as a percentage of the electorate may be more myth than reality…the country’s growing racial diversity has not drastically upended the party’s chances.
One reason demographic change has failed to transform electoral politics is that the increased diversity of the electorate has come not mainly from Black voters but from Hispanic, Asian-American and multiracial voters. Those groups back Democrats, but not always by overwhelmingly large margins.”
In fact, those margins may be getting smaller. In the 2020 presidential election, the most respected names in turnout analysis - from American National Election Studies to Pew Research and Catalist - all agree that Democratic support among voters of color diminished considerably from 2016, and that Joe Biden prevailed thanks to a surge in white enthusiasm, especially among college-educated white suburbanites.
This phenomenon is on display right here in Queens. Last week, the Census Bureau released the results of its 2020 survey, and the data show that Queens is more diverse than ever before. Whites are no longer the largest racial group, representing less than a quarter of the borough’s population. They’ve been eclipsed by both Hispanics and Asians, with the latter enjoying particularly strong growth over the past decade.
That didn’t stop Donald Trump from notching the best performance by a Republican presidential candidate here in 16 years.....
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are Hispanic swung toward Trump by 18 points, with a quarter of voters now backing him for reelection. The shift was even more pronounced in precincts where at least 75% of residents are Hispanic, which had a swing of 25 points toward Trump. Out of all the ethnic enclaves in Queens, Hispanic areas showed the largest movement away from Democrats in 2020, a result consistent with national patterns....
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are Asian swung 12 points toward Trump, the second-largest shift among racial enclaves in Queens. Again, the movement was larger in areas that are even more homogenous: precincts where at least 75% of residents are Asian had a pro-Trump swing of 16 points, with over a third of voters now backing the Republican nominee. This is especially notable because Asian voters did not evince a major shift toward Trump at the national level.
But as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic last month, Republicans enjoy more robust support among particular Asian populations, such as Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. A more granular look at the results from Asian neighborhoods in Queens suggests a similar dynamic. In majority-Asian precincts in Assembly District 24, where the immigrant community is largely South Asian, the pro-Trump swing was only about 7 points, slightly below average for the borough. But in majority-Asian precincts in Assembly District 40, dominated by Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean immigrants, the pro-Trump swing was 15 points, about double the borough-wide average....
Considering how much time liberals spent after 2016 insisting that Democrats needed to improve their standing with voters of color, you’d think these developments would trouble them. Just two weeks after Trump won, German Lopez wrote in Vox that black and brown Americans had reason to fear the party would abandon them for the siren’s song of Bernie Sanders’ class reductionism. A year later, Susan Milligan wrote that election results from the previous year proved that Democrats should double down on the “rising American electorate.” In 2018, Sean McElwee wrote that Democrats were doomed if they fixated on winning back Obama-Trump voters or seducing Romney-Clinton voters at the expense of mobilizing non-voters of color.
Well, Joe Biden did the exact opposite of all that and won anyway. He vocally eschewed the woke aesthetic for the Rust Belt reactionaries, assured skittish suburbanites that “nothing would fundamentally change” with him in the White House, and told young progressives to go fuck themselves at any and every opportunity. But rather than draw attention to these facts and what they tell us about the state of politics, everyone from establishment sycophants to the left’s biggest stars preferred to rewrite history.
The day after the 2020 election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Michigan had flipped back to blue thanks to a “reality-bending” Democratic margin in Detroit and Rashida Tlaib “running up the margins in her district.” But in fact, turnout in Detroit went up by less than 1.5% from from 2016 to 2020. The result was that Biden received 1,800 fewer votes than Clinton and Trump earned 7,700 more than he did in 2016.
A month later, the New York Times ran a story entitled “Georgia Was a Big Win for Democrats. Black Women Did the Groundwork,” which began as follows:
“When Georgia turned blue for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. this year after record voter turnout, it validated the political vision and advocacy of a group of Black women who have led a decades-long organizing effort to transform the state’s electorate.
Democrats celebrated their work registering new voters, canvassing and engaging in long-term political outreach. The achievement seemed to confirm mantras that have become commonplace in liberal politics, like “trust Black women” and “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.”
Buried in the 29th paragraph is the fact that the paper’s own analysis showed that in Georgia, “turnout had increased among minority communities and in the diverse suburbs but that the biggest shift to Democrats was among white college graduates and wealthier residents.” Totally absent was the fact that the Black share of Georgia’s electorate had in fact declined from 2016 to its lowest level since 2006. When Nate Cohn shared this analysis on Twitter the month before, it ignited a furious backlash, from accusations of racism to illiterate protests that his calculations must surely be wrong.
He wasn’t wrong, of course. Most liberals simply prefer to live in a media narrative of their own creation than in a reality that challenges their woke self-concept."
Exactly. But the facts are there for all to see, should they wish to see them.

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