It’s commonly accepted that white Americans will no longer make up the majority of the population by 2050.
However, what a new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests is that the more fearful white Americans are of losing their majority status, the more conservative leaning they become, the Association for Psychological Science reports.
Researchers Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern University noted the media coverage of the “majority-minority” shift and decided to conduct a few experiments to see how the discussion influenced the current majority population.
“We wondered how this kind of ‘us-vs-them’ framing would be perceived by members of the current majority,” Craig said.
In the first experiment, they collected data from 369 white participants who identified politically as independent. The participants read either about California’s current status as a majority-minority state or about the size of the Hispanic population in the U.S. in relation to African Americans (the number of Latinos now equals or exceeds the number of African Americans), and then they were questioned about their ideology.
Those who learned about California’s racial shift were more likely to identify as Republican leaning and conservative than those who read only about Hispanic demographics in the U.S.
In another experiment, a nationally representative sample showed that the white responders who read a press release about the upcoming population shift to a white minority were more supportive of conservative policies—even if they were not race related—than those who read another release about increased geographic mobility.
Craig and Richeson believe that the white Americans see the possible demographic shift as a threat to their status over time, making them more open to conservative policies.
They also tested out that theory, just to make sure. Participants who read in some press releases that “white Americans are expected to continue to have higher average incomes and wealth compared to members of other racial groups” did not report more conservative tendencies—apparently because the threat to their status was now removed.
“We’re working on ways to present information regarding these very real and important shifts in the country’s racial demographics that don’t engender these type of threat responses and, instead, promote positive relations among members of the majority and minority groups,” Craig said.