Racial Population Projections and Reactions to Alternative News Accounts of Growing Diversity, (Dowell Myers and Morris Levy)


1. Projections of changes in racial demographics depend on how race is classified. The U.S. Census Bureau makes several different projections of the nation's racial demographic future, but the most publicized version projects our racial future in a way that narrows the definition of race groups to exclude people who are of mixed race or Hispanic. This definition results in projections of many fewer “whites,” accelerating the impending decline of the country's white majority and perhaps heightening white audiences' anxiety about demographic change. We conducted an experiment that randomly assigned whites to read alternative news stories based on 2014 Census Bureau projections. One story emphasized growing diversity, a second emphasized the decline of the white population to minority status, and a third described an enduring white majority based on intermarriage and inclusive white identity. Much higher levels of anxiety or anger, especially among Republicans, were recorded after reading the white minority story than the alternative stories of diversity or an enduring white majority.

2. Keywords: race; projections; demographic change; public opinion; political psychology


3. From its beginning, the United States has displayed interest in racially classifying its population in a census once every decade, with the original three categories of white, BLACK, and indigenous Native Americans or American Indians expanded over time to more categories that form a database available to shape subsequent social policy, an evolution well described and interpreted in Prewitt (2013). Since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, there has been legal and policy interest about current inequities that exist among racial groups.

4. In contrast, the second classification, termed here the “inclusive identity” arrangement, takes full account of the overlap across categories by tabulating people inclusively in the multiple categories they choose to select as their racial and ethnic identity. Because of “double counting,” this sums to a number that is some 20 percent greater than the total population. . . . At different moments the same person, such as an AFRICAN American who is also Hispanic, might wish to be categorized with all AFRICAN AMERICANS or, alternatively, with all Hispanics. For some purposes, it clearly is desirable to count all people of a race rather than just the non-Hispanic remainder.

5. The implications of choosing among the alternative definitions could not be greater. . . Meanwhile other groups will be growing rapidly and will surpass whites in growth. Between 2015 and 2045, Hispanics will increase in number by 73.8 percent, Asians by 82.0 percent and BLACKs or AFRICAN AMERICANS by 24.6 percent. Meanwhile the white population will have declined, and the nation will reach a crossing point in 2044 when the white total has fallen below 50 percent of the national population.

6. By happenstance, two major historic events coincided with the finding in 2008 of a sharp acceleration in white decline. The 2008 election of Barack Obama, a Democrat, to be the nation's first nonwhite president, was an energizing moment for many Americans, and especially for AFRICAN AMERICANS and other minority groups who felt long disenfranchised. Yet it also engendered anxieties about the nation's future among some whites because it put a human and political face on the nation's racial transition that had been projected .

7. Would the reductions in threatened feelings be accompanied by shifts in racial and political attitudes? Prior research has found that threat leads to the adoption of more hostile attitudes toward the minority group as well as efforts to limit the subordinate group's numbers and economic interests. Indeed, respondents exposed to the inclusive story were more likely than those who read the exclusive, minority story to say that Asians and Hispanics faced racism in America, while there were no effects on perceived racism against whites or BLACKs.