- Jul 11, 2004
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Through the past three decades, conservatives have been procreating more than liberals
Vicki Haddock, Insight Staff Writer
Sunday, September 17, 2006
If you're a liberal, here's what you can do to make Karl Rove a very happy man: Get yourself a labradoodle. Or any other kind of dog, for that matter. Even a cat will do.
Just don't have children.
[Podcast: Republicans are red-hot breeding machines]
That way you'll maintain a fertility gap that already is invisibly working to guarantee the political right will outnumber the left by an ever-growing margin.
Over the past three decades, conservatives have been procreating more than liberals -- continuing to seed the future with their genes by filling bassinets coast to coast with tiny Future Republicans of America.
Take a randomly selected sample of 100 liberal adults and 100 conservative adults. According to an analysis of the 2004 General Social Survey -- a bible of data for social scientists -- the liberals would have had 147 kids, while the conservatives would have had 208. That's a fertility gap of 41 percent. Even adjusting for other variables like age and income, there is a gap of 19 percent.
Now superimpose this on a map of the United States. The highest fertility rate is found in the most Republican state, Utah, home to the Mormon Church. The lowest fertility belongs to Vermont, a state liberal enough to be the first to sanction gay unions.
The states with the next highest fertility rates, according to the latest National Center for Health Statistics survey, are Arizona, Alaska and Texas, otherwise known as "red states." States with the next lowest fertility rates are Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, all "blue states."
So what does it mean that the birth rate in Salt Lake City far outstrips that of liberal San Francisco (where dogs supposedly outnumber children)?
"Liberals have got a big 'baby problem,' and it risks being the death of them," contends Arthur Brooks, professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs. He reckons that unless something gives, Democratic politicians in the future may not have many babies to kiss.
"When secular-minded Americans decide to have few, or no, children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide," writes Phillip Longman, senior fellow at the New America Foundation. "If 'Metros' don't start having more children, America's future is 'Retro.' "
But wait, you may say: the attitudes of the parents don't determine what ideology or political party their offspring will adopt as their own. Yet they usually do.
Political scientists have long found that 4 out of 5 people with a party preference grow up to vote the way their parents voted. In fact, while many people experience a temporary rejection of their parents' politics in very early adulthood, virtually nothing is more predictive of your political ideology than that of your parents -- it's more of a determining factor than income, education or any other societal yardstick.
There are exceptions: While only 20 percent eschew their parents' ideology, they do, after all, add up to a lot of people. And despite ample instances of Republicans in Southern states being raised by parents who once identified as Democrats, those parents were actually conservative Democrats who became Reagan Democrats and ultimately migrated to the GOP. The party labels changed, but the political ideology remains consistent from generation to generation.
"Right now this theory really applies to political parties as well as ideology, because the parties have become incredibly well sorted by ideology," says Marc Hetherington, associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who studies political identification. In other words, in 2006 a conservative is going to find a cozy home in the Republican Party, and a liberal can expect the same in the Democratic Party.
Thus Democrats will breed Democrats, and Republicans will breed Republicans -- the blue states reddening every day.
This phenomenon has prompted writer Steve Sailer to offer a prescription for ensuring a GOP majority to his readers in the American Conservative. "Because Democrats win when Americans don't marry and don't have children," he notes, "publicly label them as what they are: the party that thrives on loneliness."
In truth, it's more complicated. As far as sex goes, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats report having it with equal frequency, according to an online survey taken in November by Ken Berwitz, partner in the market research firm National Qualitative Centers Inc. Liberalism doesn't induce celibacy or frigidity, any more than conservatism can be mistaken for an aphrodisiac.
So how else to explain the fertility gap?
Limited space is one consideration. Liberals are most concentrated in cities, but such urban dwellers pay more for far less real estate than do rural dwellers -- meaning they have less money to pay for the costs of children, and fewer rooms and smaller yards in which to put them.
Religion is another factor. Some of the most ardent conservatives are religious fundamentalists who believe they have been bidden by God to go forth and multiply. These conservatives, now overwhelmingly Republican, see large families as blessings, abortion as sacrilege, birth control as potentially sinful. Indeed people who attend church weekly are twice as likely as those who seldom attend to say their ideal family size is three or more children. (This "relentlessly pro-natal" orientation, Longman contended in a recent issue of the journal Foreign Policy, threatens a not-too-distant future in which zealous Christians and radical Muslims inherit the Earth and usher in "new Dark Ages").
Conversely, other influences depress the number of children born to liberals. Liberal women are statistically more likely to delay childbirth into later years than are conservative women, and they may also be more open to abortion, although the data is unclear. Gays and lesbians, who vote Democratic by a roughly 4-1 ratio, are much less likely to have children than heterosexuals. And some on the left advocate fewer children as "socially responsible" to lessen the toll on the planet's finite resources.
When it comes to California, the wildcard is our burgeoning immigrant population. Here, the highest fertility rates are among Latinas, an ethnic group that is historically liberal on economic issues and allied with the Democratic Party. This might seem to suggest that time is on the side of liberals in the Golden State, which already has become bluer since the Reagan years.
Conversely, the highest fertility rates are among Latinas who are in the country illegally, lacking voting rights. As they move through the cycles of first-, second- and third-generation immigration, their fertility rates drop and they may become more economically conservative precisely at the time they are more likely to vote. Already they identify as conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights.
So are their offspring destined to be liberal or conservative?
"Therein lies the interesting political question," observed Michael Alvarez, professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology. "Depending on how the political parties react to Hispanics in the near term, and the future, they could largely gravitate to one party over the other -- or they could evolve into a swing electorate."
Such uncertainties about behavior and demographics make some experts like Alvarez wary of forecasts that liberals will become an endangered species.
Demographics are, almost by definition, processes of distilling complexity into generality, messy diversity into neatly tied bundles of averages. Several caveats could belie a liberal "baby bust." Party identification could wane, or a third party emerge.
And a cataclysmic political event might shake up the sorting that makes the Democratic Party indisputably for liberals and the GOP the only choice for conservatives, prompting offspring to remain faithful to their parents' ideology while switching parties. Example: Another major terrorist attack might prompt the GOP to nominate a candidate like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is also pro-choice on abortion and a supporter of gay rights and gun control.
In the meantime, liberals might mull over their options for thwarting Rove by bridging the fertility gap. In the Italian city of Venice, vendors sell tourists wishing to feed the ubiquitous pigeons bags of birdseed surreptitiously laced with birth control. But infiltrating the water system in Salt Lake City seems a rather diabolical tactic in pursuit of political domination.
Syracuse's Brooks offers this suggestion to Democrats instead: Quit having pets. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/09/17/INGEJL45D11.DTL