Watching the Republican National Convention was a little like being lost in an Alaskan snowstorm: I was blinded by the unbearable whiteness of being a Republican delegate. It was surprising, therefore, to find out that the delegates were even whiter than they appeared on TV. It seems the camera not only adds ten pounds, it also increases the amount of melanin in the room.
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While 44% of all delegates at the DNC were minorities, this was true for only 7% of RNC delegates. In fact, this was one of the whitest RNC conventions in decades, pretty much since Black Americans effectively regained the franchise:
Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates seated on the convention floor are black, the lowest number since the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies began tracking diversity at political conventions 40 years ago [Link]
This was a big shift from 2000 and 2004, when the Bush campaign successfully reached out strongly to Black and Latino voters. The absence of Latino voters was particularly striking, probably because Latino activists have been driven out of the party grassroots that constitute the delegates by the rancor over immigration.
The party has also made a concerted effort to court Hispanics, but its electoral gains have been diminished by the hard-line stance many Republicans have taken on immigration… 5 percent of delegates are Hispanic, the lowest percentage at a Republican convention since 1996 [Link]
McCain’s own campaign manager said:
“We have to make a better case to the Hispanic voter that the Republican Party has something to offer other than a deportation slip,” [Link]
And while I was unable to find any figures on Asians at the Republican convention, the numbers leave little room for Asian delegates unless in very small number.
Note that neither party does a good job of representing the American people as they are today. Democrats over represent Blacks and under represent Whites, the Republicans do the opposite. It’s only with Latino delegates that the Democrats come close to parity and the Republicans are far off. These differences may represent differences in party membership overall.
However, when you look ahead, the Democrats do a far better job of representing America of the future:
The Census Bureau reported last month that racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the country’s population by 2042 – almost a decade earlier than what the bureau predicted just four years ago. [Link]
The difference in minority representation in part emerges from a deliberate difference in approach – the Democrats set diversity goals and the Republics let local parties choose whoever the wish:
Nelson Warfield, a Republican consultant, pointed out that Democratic Party rules called for race- and gender-based numerical goals for state delegations, a factor that most likely contributed to the greater minority presence at the Denver event. “The Republicans,” Mr. Warfield said, “trust delegates to represent the interests of all people more than Democrats do with their quotas.” [Link]
However, these differences are not just a product of ideology. Compare the 2008 convention to the more diverse 2000 and 2004 conventions held under the same rules with the same ideology. This year the core of the party is experiencing a nativist reaction and the convention reflects that. Related is the fact that there are few minority Republican elected officials, so the automatic delegates were also very white this year as well.
I’d like to say that the RNC delegates reflect America of yesterday, but that wouldn’t be true – America has never in its history been 93% White, except perhaps on TV. Instead, I think it reflects a certain self-conception within the party today – that real Americans are White Americans. And if that’s the message that they’re sending, it’s one I’m receiving, loud and clear.