PRLACC talks demographics at pre-election debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump buttons his jacket after the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Juhem Navarro-Rivera, senior policy analyst at Demos, visited PRLACC ahead of the debate to talk about Trump's campaign and the 'nostalgia' some Americans have that has been brought to the surface. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Many of the presidential election’s most contentious issues come down to nostalgia, a longing amongst some for the United States’ cultural and economic past, Juhem Navarro-Rivera, senior policy analyst at Demos, said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s divisive campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” harkens back to a moment when America was primarily white, Navarro-Rivera said Friday afternoon at the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center’s pre-election panel,“Trump vs. Clinton: Race, Immigration and the Future of American Politics.”

At one of Navarro-Rivera’s previous jobs, he helped manage a survey that asked respondents to address this very issue: in their perspective, was the U.S. better or worse now than it was in the 1950s? While many white males said that things had gotten worse for America, women and people of color who weren’t considered full citizens throughout much of the 20th century said the country had improved significantly.

“I think that demarcation of the 1950s is amazingly interesting because not only does it get you back to the idea of traditional families, but a lot of religion,” Navarro-Rivera said.

Trump’s brand of nostalgia is reflected not only in a longing for America’s cultural past, but in the Republican and Democratic parties’ desire to return to a manufacturing based economy, he said. This too hails back to a time when factory jobs were lucrative enough for white heads of households to have stay at home wives, a dynamic that many people of color in the new working class haven’t been able to replicate, he said.

However America may be approaching a breaking point at which Republicans won’t be able to secure office by catering to the older white vote, Navarro-Rivera said.

By 2050, the number of nonwhites in the U.S. is expected to overtake the white population, displacing them as the country’s racial majority. This may not be enough to shift the country’s political tone in itself, Natalie Masouka, director of Asian American studies at Tufts University, said. For example, Masouka said, African Americans have been a population majority in many parts of the South, but poll taxes and literacy tests were historically used to prevent them from voting, while citizenship rules and voter I.D. laws serve as a barrier to many communities of color today.

“Many have evoked this line, demography is destiny, as if sheer demographic size alone is enough,” Masouka said. “Not only do populations need to show up to the polls and vote, but they also need to communicate a group interest.”

Hillary Clinton’s success as the Democratic nominee depends largely on her ability to bring racial minorities and young people to the polls, much like Barack Obama did in 2008, Masouka said.

“Hillary Clinton is only in danger of losing if she fails to do the same in the future, which is why we see her campaign focusing on racial minority and millennial voters,” Masouka said.

Clinton is also following in the footsteps of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president, Evelyn Simien, an associate professor of political science and Africana studies at the University of Connecticut, said. While Chisholm’s campaign didn’t survive the primary season of 1972, Simien said she demonstrated an important end goal of the Civil Rights movement: that not only could blacks vote, but they could run for the highest office in the land.

Many have evoked this line, demography is destiny, as if sheer demographic size alone is enough
— Natalie Masouka, director of Asian American studies at Tufts University

“A group of people who had been disenfranchised now had a candidate who embody them and spoke truth to power,” Simien said. “Race and gender had never been more visible on the national political stage.”

Simien said this role model effect prompts women and minority candidates like Hillary Clinton to achieve historic firsts by proving that success in politics is possible.

The pre-election panel was moderated by Shayla Nunnally, an associate professor of political science and Africana studies at UConn.

Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at