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An Introduction to American Politics
IMMIGRATION AND INCREASING ETHNIC DIVERSITY HAVE LONG CAUSED INTENSE DEBATE
As the population gr ew mor e div erse, anxiety about Americans ’ ethnic identity mounted, and much as today, politicians and scholars argued about whether the country could absorb such large numbers of immigrants. The debate encompassed such issues as whether immigrants’ political and social values were compatible with American democracy, whether they would learn E nglish, and what diseases they might bring into the United States.
Immigrants’ religious affiliations also aroused concern. The first immigrants to the United States were overwhelmingly Protestant, many of them fleeing religious persecution. The arrival of G ermans and I rish in the mid -1800s meant incr easing numbers of Catholics, and the large -scale immigration of the early tw entieth cen- tury threatened to reduce the percentage of Protestants significantly: many eastern
Show how the social composition of the American population has changed over time
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European immigrants pouring into the countr y were Jewish, while the southern Europeans were mostly Catholic. A more religiously diverse country challenged the implicit Protestantism embedded in many aspects of American public life.
After World War I, Congress responded to the fears swirling around immigration with new laws that sharply limited the number of immigrants who could enter the country each year. Congress also established a new National Origins Quota System based on the nation’s population in 1890 before the wave of immigrants from eastern and southern E urope arrived.17 The new system set up a hierar chy of admissions: northern E uropean countries r eceived gener ous quotas for ne w immigrants, whereas eastern and southern E uropean countries were granted v ery small quotas. These restrictions ratcheted down the numbers of immigrants so that b y 1970 the foreign-born population in the United States reached an all-time low of 5 percent.
Official efforts to use racial and ethnic criteria to restrict the American population were not new. The very first census, as we have seen, did not count N ative Ameri- cans; in fact, Native Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1924. Most people of African descent w ere not officially citizens until 1868, when the F our- teenth Amendment to the Constitution conferred citizenship on the freed slaves.
In 1790 the federal go vernment had sought to limit the nonwhite population with a law stipulating that only fr ee whites could become naturaliz ed citizens. Not until 1870 did Congr ess lift the ban on the naturalization of nonwhites. R estric- tions applied to Asians as well. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 outlawed the entry of Chinese laborers to the United States, and additional barriers enacted after World War I meant that vir tually no Asians enter ed the countr y as immigrants until 1943, when China became our ally in World War II and these provisions were
In the 1900s many immigrants entered the United States through New York’s Ellis Island, where they were checked for disease before being admitted.
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lifted. People of Hispanic origin do not fit simply into the American system of racial classification. In 1930, for example, the census counted people of Mexican origin as nonwhite, but it r eversed this decision a decade later . Not until 1970 did the cen – sus officially begin counting persons of Hispanic origin, noting that they could be any race. 18 As this histor y suggests, American citiz enship has always been tied to “whiteness” even as the meaning of “white” shifted over time.
WHO ARE AMERICANS TODAY?
Race and Ethnicity B y 2000 immigration had pr ofoundly transformed the nation’s racial and ethnic pr ofile once again. The primary cause was Congr ess’s decision in 1965 to lift the tight immigration r estrictions of the 1920s, a decision that r esulted, among other things, in the gr owth of the Latino population (see Figure 1.1). Census figures for 2016 sho w that the total H ispanic proportion of the population, who can be of any race, is now 17.8 percent, while the black, or African American, population is 12.7 percent of the total population. Asians make up 5.4 per cent of the population. N on-Hispanic white Americans account for 61 percent of the population—their lowest share ever. Moreover, about 3.2 percent of the population now identifies itself as of “two or mor e races.”19 Although it is only a small per centage of the population, the multiracial categor y points toward a future in which the lines separating the traditional labels of racial identification may be blurring.
In 2016, 13.5 per cent of the population was born outside the U nited States, a figure comparable to the rates of for eign-born at the turn of the pr evious cen- tury. About half of the foreign-born population came from Latin America and the Caribbean, with just o ver one -third fr om Central America (including M exico). Those born in Asia constituted the next largest group, making up 31 per cent of for eign-born r esidents. B y 2016 just 10.9 per cent of those born outside the United States came fr om Europe.20 These figures represent only legally authoriz ed immigrants, while estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants at 11.4 million, the majority of whom are from Mexico and Central America.21
Religion The new patterns of immigration combined with a number of other factors to alter the r eligious affiliations of Americans. In 1900, 80 per cent of the population was Protestant; b y 2016 only 44 per cent of Americans identi- fied themselves as Protestants.22 Catholics made up 20 per cent of the population, and Jews accounted for 2 percent. A small Muslim population had also grown, to nearly 1 percent of the population. One of the most important changes in religious affiliation during the latter half of the twentieth centur y was the per centage of people who professed no organized religion. In 2016, 23 percent of the population was not affiliated with an organized church. These changes suggest an important shift in American r eligious identity: although the U nited States thinks of itself as a “Judeo-Christian” nation—and indeed was 95 per cent Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish from 1900 to 1968—by 2016 the numbers had fallen to under 70 percent of the adult population.23
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Age As America grew and its population expanded and div ersified, the country’s age profile shifted with it. In 1900 only 4 percent of the population was over 65. As life expectancy increased, the number of older Americans grew with it: by 2016 nearly 15.2 percent of the population was over 65. The number of children under the age of 18 also changed; in 1900 this gr oup comprised 40.5 per cent of the American population; by 2016 it had fallen to 22.8 per cent of the population. 24 An aging
Immigration by Continent of Origin* Where did most immigrants come from at the start of the twentieth century? How does that compare with immigration in the twenty-first century?
*Less than 1 percent not shown.
SOURCE: Department of Homeland Security 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics Table 2, November 2017, www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2016 (accessed 2/16/18). Figure shows those who have obtained “lawful permanent resident status” by continent of origin.
0 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
PERCENTAGE OF IMMIGRANTS*
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population poses challenges to the U nited States. As the elderly population grows and the working-age population shrinks, ques- tions arise about how we will fund programs for the elderly such as Social Security.
Geography Ov er the nation ’s histor y, Americans hav e changed in other ways as well, moving from mostly rural settings and small to wns to large urban ar eas. B efore 1920 less than half the population liv ed in urban ar eas; today 82 per cent of Ameri – cans do.25 Critics charge that the American political system, cr eated when America was a largely rural society, underrepresents urban areas. The constitutional provision allocat – ing each state two senators, for example, overrepresents sparsely populated rural states and underr epresents urban states, wher e the population is far mor e concentrated. The American population has also shifted regionally. In the past 50 years, especially, many Americans hav e left the Northeast and Midwest and moved to the South and Southwest. As congressional seats have been reapportioned to reflect the population shift, many problems that par ticularly plague the Midwest and Northeast, such as the decline of manufacturing jobs, receive less attention in national politics.
Socioeconomic Status Americans hav e fallen into div erse economic gr oups throughout American histor y. For much of American histor y most people w ere relatively poor working people, many of them farmers. A small wealthy elite, how- ever, grew larger in the 1890s, in a period called “ the gilded age.” By 1928 nearly 25 percent of the total annual income went to the top 1 percent of earners; the top 10 percent took home 46 per cent of total annual income. After the N ew Deal in the 1930s, a large middle class took shape, and the share going to those at the top dropped sharply. By 1976 the top 1 percent took home only 9 percent of the national annual income. S ince then, ho wever, economic inequality has once again wide- ned as a tiny gr oup of super-rich has emerged. By 2015 the top 1 per cent earned 20.3 per cent of annual income, and the top 10 per cent took home almost 50 percent of the total national income.26 At the same time, the incomes of the broad middle class hav e largely stagnated (see F igure 1.2).27 And 12.7 per cent of the population r emains belo w the official poverty line. As the middle class has
Immigration remains a controversial issue in the United States. While many believe we should do more to protect our borders, others call for comprehensive immigration reform, including an easier pathway to citizenship.
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frayed around the edges, the numbers of poor and near poor have swelled to nearly one-third of the population.28
Population and Politics The shifting contours of the American people have regu- larly raised challenging questions about our politics and go verning arrangements. Population growth has spurr ed politically charged debates about ho w the popula – tion should be appor tioned among congressional districts and how they should be drawn. These conflicts have major implications for the representation of different regions of the country—for the balance of representation between urban and rural areas. The representation of various demographic and political gr oups may also be affected, as there is substantial evidence of growing geographic sorting of citizens by education, income, marriage rates, and party voting.29 In addition, immigration and the cultural and religious changes it entails pr ovoked heated debates 100 y ears ago and still do today. The different languages and customs that immigrants bring to the
Income in the United States This figure shows that while the income of most Americans has risen only slightly since 1975, the income of the richest Americans (the top 5 percent) has increased dramatically. What are some of the ways that this shift might matter for American politics? Does the growing economic gap between the richest groups and most other Americans conflict with the political value of equality?
*Dollar values are given in constant 2016 dollars, which are adjusted for inflation so that we can compare a person’s income in 1975 with a person’s income today.
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016,” Table A-2, www.census.gov/ content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/demo/P60-259.pdf (accessed 4/16/18).
Top 5 percent
HOUSEHOLD INCOME (IN DOLLARS)*
1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2015201020052000
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United States trigger fears among some that the countr y is changing in ways that may undermine American v alues and alter fundamental identities. Yet a changing population has been one of the constants of American history.
America Is Built on the Ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Democracy
A fe w fundamental v alues underlie the American system. These values are reflected in such Founding docu – ments as the D eclaration of I nde- pendence, the Constitution, and
the Bill of Rights. The three v alues on which the American system of go vern- ment is based are liberty, equality, and democracy. Most Americans find it easy to affirm all three values in principle. I n practice, however, matters are not always so clear. Americans, moreover, are sometimes willing to subordinate liberty to security and have frequently tolerated significant departures from the principles of equality and democracy.
LIBERTY MEANS FREEDOM
No idea is mor e central to American values than liber ty. The Declaration of Independence defined three inalienable rights: “Life, Liber ty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The preamble to the Constitution likewise identified the need to secure “the Blessings of Liberty” as one of the key r easons for which the Constitution was drawn up. For Americans, liberty means freedom from government control as well as economic freedom. Both are closely linked to the idea of limited government, meaning that powers are defined and limited by a constitution.
The Constitution’s first 10 amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, above all preserve individual personal liber ties and rights. In fact, liberty has come to mean many of the fr eedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech and writing, the right to assemble fr eely, and the right to practice r eligious beliefs without interference from the government. Over the course of American history, the scope of personal liber ties has expanded as laws hav e become more tolerant and as individuals have successfully used the courts to challenge restrictions on their indi- vidual freedoms. Far fewer restrictions exist today on the press, political speech, and individual moral behavior than in the early y ears of the nation. E ven so, conflicts persist over how personal liber ties should be extended and when personal liber ties violate community norms.
In addition to personal freedom, the American concept of liber ty means economic freedom. Since the Founding, economic freedom has been linked to capitalism, free markets, and the pr otection of priv ate property. Free competition, the unfetter ed movement of goods, and the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor are all essential aspects of economic freedom and American capitalism.30 In the first century of the Republic, support for capitalism often meant support for the doctrine of laissez-faire
Analyze whether the U.S. system of government upholds American political values
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Global Diversity How does the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States compare to that of other countries around the world, and why are some countries more diverse than others?
As a “nation of immigrants,” the United States is more diverse than many Western countries, but some former colonies are even more diverse than the United States. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa were colonized by empires whose governments often drew borders that encompassed multiple ethnic groups in the region. State- building and nationalism are new to these regions, meaning that local identities often remain stronger than national ones.
In contrast, many western european and Asian countries have histories of past conflict and strong state-building efforts, resulting
in less diversity either by eliminating rival groups or forcibly assimilating them. Japan’s geographic isolation has created a racially homogeneous society, which was reinforced by the government’s use of isolationism as a means to consolidate power.a Modern policies limiting immigration continue these historic trends. france has historically pursued both political and cultural assimilation, using its schools to socialize its citizens into a com- mon identity. Recent immigration, however, has highlighted potential problems with this policy.b
How might the degree of diversity shape political values in specific countries? What types of values and policies would we expect to see in countries with a high degree of diversity versus those with less diversity?
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