Opinion

Why do California’s whites vote so differently than whites elsewhere?

Chicago Tribune

My tribe, Caucasoid Californicus, is dwindling. Over the last quarter century, California’s non-Latino white population has plunged by 2 million as Latinos and Asians burgeoned. In 1990, nearly six in 10 Californians were white; today, just four in 10; by 2030, one-third.

But California’s 15 million white stalwarts have a message of hope to impart on a critical question the 2016 election blared: Will America’s white people, five decades after we thought the civil rights era ended, ever accept an integrated, multicultural society in which they will soon be just another minority?

By a stunning 20-point margin, whites across the United States answered by elevating to the presidency Donald J. Trump, who famously branded Mexican immigrants as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” and “bad people,” and Muslims as terrorists who should be extreme-vetted and banned en masse.

Three in four Trump voters were whites older than 30. Theirs wasn’t some “economic protest” against job losses, as some commentators insist. Whites showed handsome employment and income gains over the last five years under a Democratic presidency, faring better than nonwhites. Rather, the white vote burying Democrats in 2016 in a relatively low-turnout election was a gut-level championing of Trump, the first major candidate to forcefully voice their fury at racial and cultural change.

While younger generations seem comfortable with modern diversity, older whites’ racial mindset seems to have changed little in 50 years. Surveys show a large majority of older whites still reject interracial marriage, few have friends of different races, and most “feel threatened” by immigration and want more punitive policies. Princeton University history professor Nell Irvin Painter attributes their hardened attitudes to anger at white “demotion” from dominant-race privilege to multiculture constituency.

Well, no whites have suffered more abrupt, rattling demotion than California’s. Yet, California whites, who have plenty of experience with actual immigrants, voted against Trump by a 5 percentage point margin. Reading and triangulating 2016 election exit polls shows Californian whites vote very differently from other whites around the country – including those in New York, a similarly affluent, educated Democrat bastion. New York whites supported Trump by a 6-point margin, a pro-Republican switch of 12 percentage points from 2008. At the opposite political node, Texas’ white folks may be tasting diversity but want none of it; they handed Trump a 43 percentage point landslide.

The stark absence of either a pro-Republican majority or rightward shift among California white voters in 2016 is unique. What makes West Coast whites different – particularly younger ones, whose voting approaches nonwhites’?

Speculatively, California’s white population may be self-selected for greater tolerance. Those who stay in the first major state where whites have become not just a demographic minority, but a voting minority, may be inured to racist, xenophobic demagoguery more than those in states where whites are just beginning to lose their majority grip.

Californians certainly had past periods of racial animosity. In the 1980s and ’90s, a growing older white population fueled Republicans, their traditional defenders. Harsh anti-crime rhetoric, policing and prisons proliferated; taxes and schools were cut; immigrants politically lashed.

Today, more than a decade later, Republican office holders are vanishing from the Golden State. The surge in the older-white population has ebbed. Youngsters are not stepping up. Among California white millennials (age 18-29) – the future of whiteness – Trump lost by better than 20 percentage points.

Clearly, Trump’s image of immigrant-driven drugs, rape and murder has not descended on increasingly multiracial California. Just the opposite. The decline in California’s white population has accompanied sharply falling rates of crime, violence, rape, gun deaths, school failure and related ills. Doubtless there’s no connection, but the ironies are staggering.

The biggest improvements are among younger and nonwhite populations, the ones most shaped by immigration. The worst social trends, especially for crime, gun deaths and drug overdoses, plague older, less educated whites – the population most likely to support Trump.

Other than this stressed fraction, the large majority of California whites are doing very well. Becoming another minority has not brought Euro-American apocalypse. Whites are not being banished, impoverished or victimized by outsiders. Crime and violence are at historic lows. California whites’ median family incomes have risen to a record $96,000, among the highest anywhere. White employment has jumped by 150,000 since 2010. White kids display healthier statistics than ever.

As California’s diversity approaches a global microcosm, most of its whites, particularly younger ones, may be seeing racial transition from the calming perspective of been-there-done-that. We’re a better minority than we ever were a majority.

Mike Males is a senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. Contact him at mmales@earthlink.net.

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