Last week, I took a look at the numbers behind the topic of race in America. The reality is that our society is not neatly divided into easy to define racial categories. In contrast, the real story of America is a nation with an expanding and ever more inclusive mainstream. That mainstream is guided by a shared desire to have the United States draw closer to living out its founding ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance.
Much of last week’s column was built upon an important new book by Richard Alba, “The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority, and the Expanding American Mainstream.” He drew attention to the growing number of mixed-race Americans. One out of 10 adults today have one white parent and one non-white parent.
This week, I draw upon some of my own survey data to look at the topic from a different angle. My survey found that 65% of Hispanic voters identify their race as white. This is not a choice of one or the other. It’s a mixed racial and ethnic identity.
But even that only begins to tell the story. Hispanic voters whose parents were both born in the United States tend to have different perspectives than those with at least one first generation immigrant parent.
Consider, for example, the responses to my generic congressional ballot question. That’s when we ask voters whether they would vote for the Republican from their district or the Democrat. It serves as a basic measure of the nation’s political mood.
Currently, my numbers show the Democrats with a four-point advantage on the generic ballot (43% to 39%). Hispanic voters overall favor Democrats by a much wider margin (46% to 36%).
But, the numbers are dramatically different for Hispanic voters whose parents were both born in the United States. These voters favor Republicans by a 10-point margin (47% to 37%). Among all other Hispanic voters, Democrats are preferred by an enormous 55% to 26% margin.
These results could be explained by one of two theories. The first is that newer Hispanic voters are simply different from those who came before. If this is true, then Democrats will benefit strongly from more Hispanic immigrants.
But, there is also a second possibility. It may be that second and third generation Hispanic voters begin to identify more with the country of their birth rather than that of their ethnic heritage. There is a wealth of other research data that supports this explanation.
And, it fits with the American experience. There was a time when Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrants were considered separate from the American mainstream. That was long ago. Now, they have become part of an ever-growing mainstream.
Finally, there is one other question on my recent survey that shows how fluid the definitions of race and ethnicity can be. I asked people about which racial or ethic category best defines them. But, I did so with a twist. I added “American” as one of the possibilities. With that option, 47% of all voters identified as white and 33% as American. Among Hispanic voters, 37% defined themselves as an American and 29% as white.
The point of all this is that the story of America’s racial and ethnic heritage is complex. Looking to the future, this means we are likely to see a growing blurring of the lines between races and more focus on individuals rather than their race. It’s a future that would have pleased the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And it will be a bright future for our children and grandchildren.
Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”