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There Is No Liberal Baby Bust

By Froma Harrop

"Conservatives will rule the world" because they have more babies than liberals. So says Phillip Longman in Foreign Affairs. Longman belongs to the conservative school of perpetual optimism, which holds that population trends guarantee the enduring triumph of the Republican Party. Longman dishes lots of statistics to "prove" his case.

They're baloney, of course.

For example, as evidence of America's "conservative baby boom," Longman offers this: "Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry."

Is it possible that he simply took an average of the fertility rates for the so-called red states, then for the blue states, and compared them? It appears so. That would mean that he gave equal weight to fertility rates in California (population 36 million) and Wyoming (population 509,000).

Also, what does Longman mean by "states that voted for" one candidate or the other? In many states, the vote was very close. He no doubt counted Colorado as one of the states that "voted for" Bush, when actually, 47 percent of its voters chose Kerry.

There's lots more wrong with his analysis, starting with the idea that conservatives have more babies. In Colorado, Hispanics have higher fertility rates than non-Hispanic whites, and Kerry won 70 percent of their votes.

Thing is, minorities don't really exist in the school of conservative optimism. The optimists would not be as cheerful if they did. Note how they usually focus on a handful of cities with relatively few children -- such as Seattle and San Francisco -- and portray their liberal residents as typical of the Democratic voter base. The game is: Our white people have more children than your white people.

Thus, Longman notes in another article that conservative Utah has a high fertility rate, while liberal Vermont -- "the first (state) to embrace gay civil unions" -- has a low one. His implication that acceptance of gay unions has something to do with fertility is kind of funny. One could as easily argue that Massachusetts has a higher fertility rate and took the extra step of legalizing gay marriage, so perhaps Vermont didn't go far enough.

In any case, comparing the demographics of two largely white states with relatively small populations is not a very smart way to predict big national trends. Brooklyn, N.Y., has the same number of people as Utah and Vermont put together.

In a similar vein, conservative columnist David Brooks happily noted that the Republican exurb of Mesa, Ariz., (73 percent white) now has more people than Democratic St. Louis. That may be true, but over the next 20 years, Democratic California is projected to add more people than the entire population of Arizona, times two.

New York City is projected to add a million residents in the next 20 years, mainly Asian and Latino immigrants, and their children. Five of the sprawling states that covered the 2004 electoral map in red -- Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming -- don't even have a million people.

The assumption is that minority votes aren't as meaningful as white votes. In a curious column attempting to explain the Democrats' political problem, Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute comments, "No Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson has won a majority of white voters."

Why is that a problem? In 1996, Bill Clinton received 43 percent of the white vote, against Bob Dole's 46 percent, but he took 84 percent of the black vote and easily won re-election. Clinton's margin of victory was three times Bush's in 2004.

This is all a silly discussion, because political views are not inherited. Just ask the conservative parents of the 1960s radicals.

Furthermore, people change their minds. "Democrats stink in the exurbs," David Brooks declared in 2002. Three years later, Virginia's booming Loudoun and Prince William counties are electing Democrats. The story repeats itself in New York's Suffolk County and other former Republican strongholds.

So the belief that demographics put Republicans on the road to long-term victory is clearly delusional. Still, you have to love the optimists' image of maternity-ward doctors stamping "Republican" on all those cute little bottoms. If only liberals were as creative.

fharrop@projo.com

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate


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