Days after a white gunman shot dead 13 people and killed 10 at a grocery store in a black-majority neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, reports Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast a segment on the “grand replacement theory”. “We’re still not sure exactly what it is,” Carlson claimed of the racist, white supremacist conspiracy theory that the population of white Americans is being systematically and deliberately “replaced” with non-white immigrants and their children, something the alleged gunman advocated before the attack. However elements of the theory were repeated by mainstream figures on the rightincluding Carlson, as well as GOP members of Congress such as Rep. Matt Gaetz and Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.
In last week’s segment, Carlson explained the version of the theory he’s been promoting for years (more than 400 times according to a recent analysis of the New York Times). “There is a strong political component to the immigration policy of the Democratic Party,” Carlson said before airing a handful of clips from Democrats not really demonstrate what he claims. “They say out loud, ‘We’re doing this because it helps us win elections.'”
This mainstream version of replacement theory hides behind arguments that criticism of demographic change in the US is about politics and power. It’s a narrative so pervasive on the right that nearly half of Republicans believe immigrants are brought into the country for political reasons. Corresponding a poll conducted in December by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research47 percent of Republicans agreed that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace Native Americans with immigrants who are consistent with their political views.”
But these justifications are based on false assumptions about American demographics and immigration: that whites will soon be a minority in this country, that immigrants and non-white voters are all Democrats, and that no longer being the majority group means a loss of power. When these assumptions are disproved, the real justifications for these fears become transparent.
The theory’s first incorrect assumption is that white Americans will soon become a minority population. But if you read the data nuanced, that’s not true. Yes, in 2015 the US Census Bureau released a population forecast that by the year 2044, non-Hispanic white Americans would no longer be a numerical majority in the country. But not being the majority is not the same as being a minority: Even in this projection, non-Hispanic white Americans would still play a role plurality of the population compared to any other race. And non-Hispanic white Americans aren’t the only white Americans. If you include American Latinos who identify exclusively as white, you end up with “more than 70 percent of the population identifying at least partially as white in 2044, and over two-thirds in 2060,” according to the study study published last year in the journal “Political Perspectives”.
This nuance affects how Americans think about the future. The same research showed that presenting the history of demographic change as “majority-minority by 2044” prompts white Americans to say they feel more anxious and less hopeful. But if you wrap those same demographic shifts in a more nuanced (and accurate) narrative around a rise of multiculturalism and Americans who identify as more than one race, white Americans’ self-reported anxiety was lower, even compared to a control group presented with basic facts about demographic changes without a narrative framework, according to the same study.
It’s almost like misrepresenting demographic change, as a zero-sum game creates misperceptions among Americans that can increase fear and resentment. (Why the prospect of losing their status as a numerical majority is so frightening for some white Americans completely different question.)
Another plot hole in the mainstream replacement narrative is the assumption that immigrants will exclusively support the Democratic Party. Stefanik’s election campaign ran a Facebook ad in September, which reflected the rhetoric of replacement theory. “Radical Democrats” were planning “a PERMANENT ELECTION UPRISING,” the ad said. “Your plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a lasting liberal majority in Washington.”
Carlson, too, repeatedly complained about a so-called Democratic plot to “import an entirely new third-world constituency and transform the demographics of the US so completely that they will never lose again.”
But even he acknowledges that narrative is flawed, pointing out on his show last week that many nonwhite and immigrant voters are actually Republicans. In the 2020 election, about 2 in 5 Latino voters voted for then-President Donald Trump. And as my colleague Alex Samuels has written, sending out messages about racial grievances could, perhaps counterintuitively, win some Latino voters over to the Republican Party. In fact, the GOP attracts voters from all racial groups, and while white voters may be its base, not all nonwhite or immigrant voters are Democrats. Not to mention the fact that not all immigrants are naturalized and eligible to vote (take it from this immigrant who has lived and worked in the US for eight years and still can’t vote).
Another flawed assumption baked into the mainstream presentation of replacement theory is that losing a numerical majority means losing power, but in America that is not the case. The reality is that US demographics have been changing for decades, but those in power have not fully adapted. According to a, white men made up about 35 percent of the US population, but held 85.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions as of 2020 report from Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor emeritus studying diversity at Guilford College in North Carolina. The handful of those seats not held by white men are almost exclusively held by white women: just 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are black, 2.4 percent are East or South Asians, and 3.4 percent are Latino, according to the Zweigenhaft report from 2021.
Our elected leaders also remain out of step with the US population. While the current Congress is the most racially diverse we have ever had, it is still whiter than the general population. People who identify as non-Hispanic white have put on makeup 61.6 percent of the US population in 2020 according to the US Census Bureau, but accounted for 77 percent of voting members in Congress.
Coming to terms with these false assumptions at all feels a bit like legitimizing their baseless premise, but when it comes down to it a third of Americans If you believe a conspiracy theory based on misleading assumptions, it makes sense to carefully deconstruct the false narrative. And when the toothpick scaffolding that sustains the theory is uncovered, what really underpins this narrative becomes clear: racism and fear.