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Queens is More Diverse Than Ever and More Republican than 20 years Ago
National patterns that see voters of color drifting right are playing out in the heart of the American socialist project.
Back in May, the New York Times reported that the country’s increasing racial diversity was not improving the Democratic Party’s fortunes at the ballot box to the degree that many observers had expected. According to Nate Cohn, the paper’s data guru:
“The widely held assumption that [Republicans] will struggle as white voters decline as a percentage of the electorate may be more myth than reality…the country’s growing racial diversity has not drastically upended the party’s chances.
One reason demographic change has failed to transform electoral politics is that the increased diversity of the electorate has come not mainly from Black voters but from Hispanic, Asian-American and multiracial voters. Those groups back Democrats, but not always by overwhelmingly large margins.”
In fact, those margins may be getting smaller. In the 2020 presidential election, the most respected names in turnout analysis - from American National Election Studies to Pew Research and Catalist - all agree that Democratic support among voters of color diminished considerably from 2016, and that Joe Biden prevailed thanks to a surge in white enthusiasm, especially among college-educated white suburbanites.
This phenomenon is on display right here in Queens. Last week, the Census Bureau released the results of its 2020 survey, and the data show that Queens is more diverse than ever before. Whites are no longer the largest racial group, representing less than a quarter of the borough’s population. They’ve been eclipsed by both Hispanics and Asians, with the latter enjoying particularly strong growth over the past decade.
That didn’t stop Donald Trump from notching the best performance by a Republican presidential candidate here in 16 years. Only at the height of the country’s jingoistic fever in 2004 did George W. Bush manage to grind out another half-point during his re-election campaign. But Trump still beat Bush’s margin from 2000, and Biden still did worse than Al Gore.
To understand how this trend relates to the various ethnic communities in Queens, I combined precinct-level results from the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections with demographic profiles of every precinct in the borough prepared by Rapi Castillo and based on the latest figures from the 2020 census.
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are Hispanic swung toward Trump by 18 points, with a quarter of voters now backing him for reelection. The shift was even more pronounced in precincts where at least 75% of residents are Hispanic, which had a swing of 25 points toward Trump. Out of all the ethnic enclaves in Queens, Hispanic areas showed the largest movement away from Democrats in 2020, a result consistent with national patterns.
Importantly, while there were no doubt some Clinton 2016 voters in these precincts that Trump managed to flip, it’s clear from the raw turnout numbers that many former Democratic voters simply chose to stay home last year. For example, in precinct 34-01 - where 91% of residents are Hispanic, the most of any precinct in Queens - Clinton received 638 votes in 2016, whereas Biden received only 382. By contrast, Trump only improved from 60 votes in 2016 to 110 in 2020. In fact, Biden received fewer votes than Clinton in the aggregate of all precincts that are 75% Hispanic or more, a shocking development in an election where turnout skyrocketed across the board.
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are Asian swung 12 points toward Trump, the second-largest shift among racial enclaves in Queens. Again, the movement was larger in areas that are even more homogenous: precincts where at least 75% of residents are Asian had a pro-Trump swing of 16 points, with over a third of voters now backing the Republican nominee. This is especially notable because Asian voters did not evince a major shift toward Trump at the national level.
But as Ronald Brownstein noted in the Atlantic last month, Republicans enjoy more robust support among particular Asian populations, such as Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. A more granular look at the results from Asian neighborhoods in Queens suggests a similar dynamic. In majority-Asian precincts in Assembly District 24, where the immigrant community is largely South Asian, the pro-Trump swing was only about 7 points, slightly below average for the borough. But in majority-Asian precincts in Assembly District 40, dominated by Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean immigrants, the pro-Trump swing was 15 points, about double the borough-wide average.
Precincts where at least 50% of residents are white swung toward Trump by 6 points in 2020. Those that are at least 75% white had the weakest pro-Trump swing of all at just 2 points, but that’s because he already enjoyed powerful support in these areas before. Out of all the racial enclaves in Queens, it’s the only one where Trump won a majority of voters, and a considerable one at that.
By contrast, Biden routed him among black voters here even more strongly than he did at the national level, and no real movement toward Trump was apparent. Mammoth turnout and blockbuster Democratic margins netted Biden more than 100,000 votes out of the 195 majority-black precincts in Queens alone.
Considering how much time liberals spent after 2016 insisting that Democrats needed to improve their standing with voters of color, you’d think these developments would trouble them. Just two weeks after Trump won, German Lopez wrote in Vox that black and brown Americans had reason to fear the party would abandon them for the siren’s song of Bernie Sanders’ class reductionism. A year later, Susan Milligan wrote that election results from the previous year proved that Democrats should double down on the “rising American electorate.” In 2018, Sean McElwee wrote that Democrats were doomed if they fixated on winning back Obama-Trump voters or seducing Romney-Clinton voters at the expense of mobilizing non-voters of color.
Well, Joe Biden did the exact opposite of all that and won anyway. He vocally eschewed the woke aesthetic for the Rust Belt reactionaries, assured skittish suburbanites that “nothing would fundamentally change” with him in the White House, and told young progressives to go fuck themselves at any and every opportunity. But rather than draw attention to these facts and what they tell us about the state of politics, everyone from establishment sycophants to the left’s biggest stars preferred to rewrite history.
The day after the 2020 election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Michigan had flipped back to blue thanks to a “reality-bending” Democratic margin in Detroit and Rashida Tlaib “running up the margins in her district.” But in fact, turnout in Detroit went up by less than 1.5% from from 2016 to 2020. The result was that Biden received 1,800 fewer votes than Clinton and Trump earned 7,700 more than he did in 2016.
A month later, the New York Times ran a story entitled “Georgia Was a Big Win for Democrats. Black Women Did the Groundwork,” which began as follows:
“When Georgia turned blue for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. this year after record voter turnout, it validated the political vision and advocacy of a group of Black women who have led a decades-long organizing effort to transform the state’s electorate.
Democrats celebrated their work registering new voters, canvassing and engaging in long-term political outreach. The achievement seemed to confirm mantras that have become commonplace in liberal politics, like “trust Black women” and “Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party.”
Buried in the 29th paragraph is the fact that the paper’s own analysis showed that in Georgia, “turnout had increased among minority communities and in the diverse suburbs but that the biggest shift to Democrats was among white college graduates and wealthier residents.” Totally absent was the fact that the Black share of Georgia’s electorate had in fact declined from 2016 to its lowest level since 2006. When Nate Cohn shared this analysis on Twitter the month before, it ignited a furious backlash, from accusations of racism to illiterate protests that his calculations must surely be wrong.
He wasn’t wrong, of course. Most liberals simply prefer to live in a media narrative of their own creation than in a reality that challenges their woke self-concept. They’ll even engage in some creative race science to lump conservative immigrants in with Spanish settlers before admitting that a brown person might not share their politics.
Leaving aside the filthy racism of lying about how popular you are among black and brown voters to score points Twitter, maintaining this collective delusion isn’t doing the left any favors either. As the electorate continues to polarize around college education, we may see continued movement to the right among the multiracial working class. Coupled with ongoing bleed among white workers and an influx of affluent suburbanites into the Democratic coalition, this phenomenon could be catastrophic to the hope of building working-class power in this country. But to avert it, we’d first need to admit it’s happening.