The Most Important Political Demographic Of All

In light of Jonathan's post on future demographics, I am reminded of how when I think of my all-time favorite posts on MyDD, Maybe It Is A Battle Of Civilizations from April 15, 2005 always makes the short list. That post was a revelation for me, as it unlocked, I believe, the quickest and most important way to describe the underlying demographic currents of both the Democratic and Republican coalitions. The thesis of that post, which I still accept and have not seen any data to counter it, it that the Republican coalition can be best understood as the "White-Christian" coalition, and Democrats can best of understood as the "Non-White And / Or Non-Christian" coalition (hereafter referred to as "Non White-Christians"). While this is obviously a generalization, I think it is an extremely useful one. This demographic viewpoint allows one to characterize both the "culture war" over social issues, and debates over neo-conservative foreign policy, as struggles rooted in an ideological binary opposition of pluralism vs. cultural supremacy. There are other important demographic conceptualizations in contemporary politics, but I believe this is the most important one. I also wonder if someone showed that post to Howard Dean, since he made his "White Christian" remark only a few weeks later.

Two years later, it is worth revisiting this demographic divide. In 2006, the two groups made up virtually identical percentages of the electorate that they made up in 2004: 64% "White-Christian," and 37% "Non White-Christian." Not surprisingly, Democrats did better among both groups in 2006 than 2004. Among "White-Christians," Democrats when from a 63%--36% deficit to a 57%--41% deficit, and among "Non White-Christians," they went from a 68%--30% advantage to a 74%-24% advantage. Overall, Democratic improvement among both groups was virtually identical, although their gains among "Non White-Christians" are more impressive considering Democrats already held a huge advantage among that group. Here are some more thoughts on this demographic divide two years later:

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Diversity and the Blogosphere: Practical Difficulties

Given the discussions here over the last twenty-four hours, I would like to keep discussing diversity in the progressive, political blogosphere. This is good stuff, and it is a rich vein that I would like to keep tapping--Chris

Many blogs, including MyDD, are often chastised for not focusing on a wider range of issues. However, I firmly believe that one of the key aspects to the success of any blog is focusing on a narrow topic range, and developing original, expert, insightful content on that topic range. If MyDD was a broadly based, all policy areas, all current events blog, I do not believe we would be viable. My specific fear is that if we dropped our content focus, I believe that about 90% of our audience would quickly move to larger group blogs like Dailykos, which boasts a larger writing team that can more effectively cover a wider range of issues than we can. Thus, in order to maintain viability, we at MyDD have to focus our content on topics almost no one else covers, even though we are often criticized for not covering certain topics as a result of this. In fact, without question, the most frequent form of criticism I receive is: "why aren't you blogging about x?"

This struggle over diversity of content is actually one of the main points of tension in discussions of demographic and cultural diversity in the blogosphere. Among progressives, discussions of content diversity can quickly translate into discussions of cultural diversity regarding the people producing the content. That is to say, progressives often consider the demographic and cultural groups of which a given person is a member to be a prime cause of the content that person produces. For example, the much of the progressive, political blogosphere is often criticized for not writing on labor issues because participants in the blogosphere are reasonably wealthy. In either a general or specific sense, this argument is not necessarily wrong or right--it is just difficult to quantify. To what extent does an individual's position within a broadly defined cultural and demographic group impact the specific content s/he produces on a daily basis? Undeniably, there is some impact, but in any given case it is difficult to say how much.

Put this altogether, and it produces a very difficult tension: how can individual blogs maintain the content focus which is necessary to their viability, while also achieving cultural diversity that is an undeniable progressive, and useful, goal? The answer, I believe, is that when large group blogs, many of which have attained at least a modicum of institutional power within their area of focused content, are looking for new writers, diversity should be a priority among said searches. However, this search for diversity should mean a more diverse set of voices that also focus on the given blog's topic area, not culturally diverse voices that would introduce new topics outside of that area.

Much more in the extended entry, including the details of a practical case study on why this isn't so easy.

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More On Diversity: Blogging Is A Niche

There is a great danger in writing quick posts on controversial topics. I was afraid I was stepping into that territory about twelve hours ago through my post on diversity and the blogosphere, given that I only had thirty minutes to write that post and that there is a huge amount of confusion over the definition of terms I have come to take for granted. In this post, I would like to try and clear up any confusion the original post might have generated.

In the comments, the strongest pushback to my piece came from the famous and thoughtful Kid Oakland, who wrote the following:
Of course we want diversity in the blogosphere.

We want the blogs to reflect the party and the nation...not perfectly...but as much as possible.
I have to seriously ask--why? Since when is blogging such an incredibly important public institution, ala our education system, government or business world, that the entire public needs to be represented in it? I'd like to think blogging is that important, but it just isn't. Blogging is a niche--a subset. Progressive political blogging is a subset of blogging, within a subset of new media, and also within a subset of the progressive movement.

There is a problem here, from what I can tell, is definitional. My collected writings on the blogosphere are longer than James Joyce's Ulysses (no hyperbole), and there are some terms--like netroots and blogosphere--which are very well defined in my mind but far more nebulous than I often appreciate. Consider the way Kid Oakland is uses the term blog as a synonym for "new media" (emphasis mine):

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A Quick Note On Diversity In the Blogosphere

I am about to head home after a great weekend in Georgia, but before I do I wanted to make a quick comment about the ongoing discussion of diversity in the progressive, political blogosphere.

We know from repeated studies that the progressive, political blogosphere skews toward the following demographics: 85-90% white, 60-65% male, very high income ($75-$80K average income), and the highly educated (40-50% advanced degrees, and 80-85% four year degrees). Now, we also know that such demographic skews are not representative of the Democratic Party, of the progressive movement, or of America. There are varying and multiple causes behind this skew: broadband access, digital literacy, and a lack of representative voices within the political blogosphere to attract a more diverse audience (research has generally found that people are attracted to content produced by those with whom they share similar cultural voices, even in the supposedly identity-blind world of the internet). However, due to time constraints (I'm about to jump on a plane back to Philly), and a fear from distracting form my main point, I don't really want to go into detail on the merits and solutions to those problems.

What I do want to say might actually sound like I am belittling the progressive blogosphere somewhat, which might seem strange coming from me. However, it really isn't. The thing is that there are many different ways for people to engage in civic affairs, in politics, in media, and in the online world. Even thought the blogosphere is an incredibly important phenomenon to the progressive and political world, the fact is that it is still only one way to engage in civic affairs, in politics, in media and in the online world. The progressive blogosphere is not inherently good to the point where everyone needs to be involved in it. It is not the equivalent of education or voting. There really is no need to, for example, make sure that local community activists working on housing issues are maintaining well read and frequently updated blogs documenting their activities. There are other ways for such activists to get their message out, and there are other ways for those who are part of the progressive, political blogosphere to communicate with activists of that nature. Blogging is one way to make that connection, but it is not necessary that blogging be the way that connection is made. There are other avenues. Not everyone has to blog.

Without question, the progressive, political blogosphere should not unfairly exclude anyone who participates within it. Also, without question, efforts should be made to guarantee that those who wish to participate in the progressive, political blogosphere can do so. Further, it is absolutely necessary to the progressive movement that the different communities within that movement are talking with each other, learning about each other, and working together. However, none of this means that every single person involved in progressive politics needs to participate in the blogosphere. We don't need to make sure that everyone and everything in progressive politics are engaged with, and represented in, the progressive blogosphere. There are many ways for people to be enaged in the movement, and blogging should not be something everyone is expected to do. It is more important for some groups and some people than others. It is more accessible for some people than others. It is simply a better fit for how some people live than others (for example, I don't have kids, but I do spend a lot of time online). We simply don't need to make sure that everyone is blogging. There is nothing inherently good about that.

Questions of how to solve the diversity problem in the blogosphere often arise, and my blogging on MyDD has repeatedly taken those concerns seriously. However, one thing we need to remember in these discussions is that no matter how wonderful and important the blogosphere is, it simply isn't something everyone needs to do. We need to make certain that the progressive movement is diverse, inclusive, and so on, but every single community within the movement does not also have to demonstrate the same level of diversity expected of the overall movement. Different means of engagement are simply more relevant for different kinds of people, and for different communities. It is absolutely essential that we are all engaging each other, but it is by no means important that we are all engaging each other through blogging.

Blogosphere Avant-Gardism

In one of my very first major posts on MyDD--a post which I paid $25 to write at a Kinkos in Modesto, California as there was no other way for me to get online--I posited the political blogosphere as the avant-garde of political and opinion journalism. Considering that it is now quite old in blogosphere terms, and the conditions under which I wrote it, I am surprised at how well it still stands up. Here is an excerpt (emphasis in original):
While the poetic and artistic avant-garde sought to relocate the primary purpose of art away from the aesthetic function, I had a very difficult time figuring out what the Blogosphere sought to do differently than the Political Opinion Complex. However, at long last I think I have it.

While the corporate funded Political Opinion Complex seeks to distribute information primarily for the purpose of consumption, the primary goal of the Blogosphere is to distribute political information for the purpose of agitation / direct action. The POC only wants you to consume what it produces. The Blogosphere seeks for its consumer to act after, or even as a result of, consumption of its product. To put it another way, The Blogosphere is a counter-institutional formation that seeks to relocate the primary purpose of political and opinion journalism in agitation toward action rather than in profit-based consumption.
Three years later, I no longer agree with some of the specifics of that formulation, but I still subscribe to the general sentiment (for example, I wrote something similar in an article for the BBC last October). What I would change in my original formulation is that we are not just agitating toward action, which is of course important and the tremendous rise in progressive political activism in recent years is a testament to our success in that department, but also that we are also seeking to create a new political reality and alter the national political conscious. In so doing, we are challenging the political reality created by what I once vaguely called the Political Opinion Complex, and perhaps now even more vaguely refer to in class based terms such as the establishment media and political aristocracy. It is a political reality that has gone unchecked and unchallenged for a long time. Remarkably, and unlike most avant-garde movements, we have actually had a tremendous amount of success in our challenge to this reality. Peter Daou, who perhaps first, and perhaps still best, articulated this important function of the progressive blogosphere, must be proud, even if it isn't necessarily to the benefit of his candidate at this point in time. :)

More Sunday blogosphere avant-gardism in the extended entry.

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