Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mixed results in shift toward progressive politics in TN cities

In a provocatively titled piece "The Coming End of the Culture Wars," the Center for American Progress looks at how much more progressive America and particularly urban areas have become since 1988. They look at issues such as guns, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

After pointing out recent failed attempts to marshal the culture war in national politics, the analysis describes the demographic trends driving the shift toward progressive politics:

BEGIN QUOTE "First, Millennials—the generation with birth years 1978 to 2000—support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past. The number of voting age Millennials will increase by about 4.5 million a year between now and 2018, and the number of Millennials who are eligible voters will increase by about 4 million a year. The 2020 presidential election will be the first where all Millennials will have reached voting age, and at that point the generation will be 103 million strong and have about 90 million eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters in that year.

Second, the culturally conservative white working class has been declining rapidly as a proportion of the electorate for years. Exit polls show that the proportion of white working-class voters—scoring just 46.3 out of a 100 on the Progressive Studies Program comprehensive 10-item progressive cultural index covering topics ranging from religion, abortion, and homosexuality to race, immigration, and the family—is down 15 points since 1988, while the proportion of far more culturally progressive white college graduate voters (53.3 on the index) is up 4 points, and the proportion of minority voters (54.7 on the index) is up 11 points. State after state since 1988 has replicated this general pattern—a sharp decline in the share of white working-class voters accompanied by increases in the shares of minority voters and, in most cases, of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters.

Other demographic trends that will undermine the culture warriors include the growth of culturally progressive groups such as single women, and college-educated women and professionals, as well as increasing religious diversity. Unaffiliated or secular voters are hugely progressive on cultural issues and it is they—not white evangelical Protestants—who are the fastest-growing “religious” group in the United States." END QUOTE

Southern Voice took an in-depth look at the Center for American Progress' piece with respect to the situation in Georgia, so I thought we ought to do the same for Tennessee. They make it easy with an interactive map of states and major metropolitan areas. The following are the shifts or percentages of change toward (a positive number) or away from (a negative number) progressive politics in Tennessee's metro areas from 1998 to 2008:

Memphis 19%

Clarksville 2%

Nashville 3% (includes Murfressboro and Franklin)

Chattanooga 5%

Knoxville 0%

Kingsport/Bristol -11%

For the same period, the state as a whole gained 1%, but the data for 2004-2008 show a -1%.

It is important to note that the numbers don't start and stop with political boundaries. In other words, if the study just looked at units like Shelby County or the City of Knoxville, the percentages might be very different. Furthermore, we don't know on which issues Tennessee metro areas have become progressive. Might they have stayed the same on guns, but shifted on abortion or same-sex marriage or even immigration?

Additionally we could ask what the trend really is in Tennessee. As noted, the 20-year period shows a 1% shift toward progressive politics, but the last four years shows a 1% decline, which is mirrored in the composition of our General Assembly. Assuming that most of the demographic factors that are in play in the United States as a whole are partially at work in Tennessee, what accounts for the slower growth in progressive politics in our state? I think one would would have to acknowledge the continuing power of Evangelical Protestanism in shaping the state's political culture. According to the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 51% of the state's population is Evangelical Protestant.

My guess is that as long as that number is above 45%, the shift toward progressive politics in Tennessee will be a slow one. Growing diversity within Evangelicalism and a growing disaffection with culture war politics might also bring about a more progressive shift. For example, more scandals like the one centering on Sen. Paul Stanley might peel voters away from linking Evangelical faith and socially conservative politics, but we probably won't know for at least 10 years.

In the mean time, progressives would do well to take advantage of the shifts in metro areas by focusing on what can be accomplished at the city and county level such as the defeat of English Only, opting out of guns in parks, and more inclusive non-discrimination policies.

No comments: