'Here They Treat Us Like a Different Race': Political Implications of Class-in-Race Inequality
Posted: 21 Aug 2014
Date Written: 2014
Whites in the United States have shown class divisions in politics for centuries, while since the 1960s Asian Americans, Latinos, and especially blacks have generally expressed liberal policy preferences and Democratic party support regardless of class position. The recent marked growth of inequality within non-white groups raises the possibility of changing political or policy views and new intra-group conflicts. This paper initiates an investigation of that possibility. It is a prolegomenon; we lay out and start to develop, but do not complete, a research project now underway.
We first demonstrate the recent growth in class disparities within each of the four main conventional American racial or ethnic groups, and show how diverging class positions are associated with diverging lived experiences within each group. We then use the American National Election Studies (ANES) from the mid-1980s and 2012 to show how growing inequality is reflected in attitudes and preferences. Blacks and Latinos continue to express strong group loyalty, but well-off non-whites, like well-off whites, sometimes support government social welfare expenditures less than poorer members of their group do and less than their counterparts did several decades ago. Poor blacks and Latinos, in contrast, sometimes show increasing commitment to their class and decreasing commitment to the traditional stances of their racial or ethnic group. Well-off blacks and Latinos feel more politically efficacious, and poorer non-whites feel less politically efficacious, than several decades ago.
We offer three categories of mechanisms to explain the link between rising inequality and rising class conflict within groups -- motivations that are the same across groups (self interest or ideological conservatism), motivations that differ across groups but yield similar political outcomes, and changes in context or group composition. We then turn to case studies, with the twin goals of deepening the explanations of changing attitudes, and exploring whether survey results are borne out by real political and policy disputes on the ground. We explore contextual changes that make current intra-group class conflict different from long-standing tensions between rich and poor, and develop a typology of types of local conflicts that mirrors the set of mechanisms to explain attitudinal change. With due respect for the fact that micro- and macro-level analyses necessarily and desirably differ, we aspire to link explanations of class conflict as revealed in surveys and as revealed in actual disputes. We anticipate costs as well as benefits to increasing class divergence within American racial and ethnic groups, so we urge scholars and journalists to move beyond simple group categories in exploring American political conflicts.
Keywords: race, ethnicity, class, public opinion, inequality, community conflict
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation