Pluralism, Identity Politics, and Coalitions:
Toward Madisonian Constitutionalism
Jennifer L. Hochschild
For Gerald Pomper and Marc Weiner, eds., The Future of American Democratic Politics: Principles and Practices. Rutgers University Press, 2003
NOTE: not quite final version
How is it possible for there to exist over time a just and stable society of free and equal citizens, who remain profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?
--John Rawls, 1993
The best provision for a stable and free Gov’t. is not a balance in the powers of the Gov’t., tho’ that is not to be neglected, but an equilibrium in the interests & passions of the Society itself.
--James Madison, 1792
James Madison thought he had an answer to Rawls’ question, which lies at the core of democratic theory and constitutional design. Madison sought to create a political system that would control the “impulse” of “opinion, passion, or interest” by channeling citizens into relatively small factions spread across a wide territory and focused mainly on material interests. Arguably all of the separation of powers, checks and balances, veto points, layers of federalism, multiple systems of representation, and other features of American constitutional design that we learned about in high school were aimed at this particular kind of “equilibrium,” which Madison thought could sustain Rawls’ “just and stable society of free and equal citizens who remain profoundly divided.”
Whether Madison’s intent is to be honored or deplored is an issue that political analysts have debated since before the Constitution was ratified. I will set aside that question for the narrower one of examining several ways in which the kinds of profound divisions that Madison feared and Rawls still fears--in this case divisions according to racial and ethnic identity–play out within the American constitutional structure. Have they been balanced in an equilibrium of passions and interests? If not, could they be in the future--and how? And can such an equilibrium in fact create a just and stable society of free and equal citizens?
I will simplify several other enormously complicated literatures by asserting that there are three main trajectories for the politics of racial or ethnic identification within the American constitutional structure. The first is pluralism, understood as overlapping or even dissolving cleavages among people who mostly move away from the politics of passion and doctrines into the politics of interests. The second is identity politics, understood as separation or even increasing competition or hostility among people who understand their passions and interests mainly through their racial or ethnic identification. The third is coalition politics, in which identity-based groups seek to work together, rather than remaining separate or competing with one another, so that they can attain mutually shared interests.
In yet another simplification, I will move quickly though some illustrative evidence for the persistence or growth of pluralism and identity politics, in order to focus on several variants of coalition politics. My goal is to raise some questions about the kinds of coalition politics likely in the foreseeable future, with the purpose of circling back to a consideration of Madisonian constitutionalism and ultimately of the future of democratic politics in the United States.
Pluralism has at least as many meanings as users, and for my present purposes not much is at stake in which definition one uses. I intend the term mostly to invoke in more contemporary language Madison’s notion of multiple, diffuse, interacting factions. I focus on two meanings that are especially common and especially relevant to the concerns of this paper: the idea of the melting pot, and the idea of overlapping cleavages.
The metaphor of the melting pot was popularized by Israel Zangwill in his execrable play, The Melting Pot, first performed in 1908. The protagonist is an immigrant Russian Jew who falls in love with an immigrant Russian Christian, only to discover that her father was the officer responsible for the pogrom that killed his family. After leaving her in horror, he returns and they are reunited. Exalted by young love and the sight of the Statue of Liberty glowing in the sunset, David declares,
It is the fires of God round His Crucible. There she lies, the great Melting-Pot – listen!… Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian, black and yellow. Yes, East and West, and North and South,… how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. . . . What is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem . . . compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward.
Writers from Hector St. John de Crévecoeur to John Jay, Herman Melville, Theodore Roosevelt, and most recently Amitai Etzioni and Michael Barone (Etzioni, 2001; Barone, 2001) have all extolled the idea that immigrants come to the United States, lose their distinctive nationalities and cultures, and join together in creating a new nationality and culture that is uniquely American. By now the metaphor is a cliché; an internet search (using Ixquick.com) for the phrase produced, as its top five results, “The Melting Pot: Ultimate Candle info site,” “The Melting Pot – Importers of Minidisc Walkmans,” “The Melting Pot Restaurants – Fondue and Fine Dining,” “Magickal Melting Pot – a guide to Wicca/Pagan beliefs and tools,” and a series in the Washington Post on “The Myth of the Melting Pot: America’s Racial and Ethnic Divides.” But its very descent into advertising gimmicky suggests its resonance with many Americans. When asked if they think of themselves “mainly as a member of a particular ethnic, racial, or nationality group” or “mainly as just as an American,” ninety percent of respondents to the 1994 General Social Survey (hereafter, GSS) chose the latter. That included not only ninety-six percent of non-Hispanic whites (hereafter Anglos), but also two-thirds of non-Hispanic blacks (hereafter blacks or African Americans), over three-quarters of Hispanics, and nine-tenths of Native Americans. Seventy percent of whites and sixty percent of blacks agree with the flat statement that “the U.S. is a melting pot . . .” (CNN/ U.S.A. Today, 1995).
Furthermore, a majority of Americans with clear opinions on the question believe that the United States ought to be a melting pot. On four surveys from 1994 to 2001, with a few small exceptions half to three-fifths thought it “better for America if different racial and ethnic groups . . . blend into the larger society as in the idea of a melting pot” rather than “maintain[ing] their distinct cultures.” The proportions within each racial or ethnic group who agreed increased over the 1990s.
The melting pot metaphor is thriving, at least rhetorically. We need much more analysis, of course, to show how this ideal is actually practiced and who embraces it at a level deeper than a survey response. My point here is only to establish that it has real resonance among the public.
The other main form of pluralism--overlapping or crosscutting cleavages—sounds almost as quaint, is the object of almost as much academic derision, and has almost as much resonance with the American public. The term received its definitive explication from Robert Dahl in 1967. Although citizens engage in serious conflicts, he argued, “these issues do not ordinarily polarize Americans into two exclusive and antagonistic camps. Indeed the pattern of disagreements in political attitudes and loyalties may itself actually inhibit polarization and encourage conciliation.” This occurred for two reasons. “Differences in political attitudes, actions, and loyalties are not closely related to differences in region, social standing, occupation, and other socio-economic characteristics,” and “differences in political attitudes and loyalties are not highly inter-related among themselves…. To overstate the point, every ally is sometimes an enemy and every enemy is sometimes an ally” (Dahl, 1967, 338-339).
Was this ever the case? If so, is it still? According to one widely-used measure of ideological and partisan polarization, cleavages among political elites were indeed overlapping through most of the period after World War II, but no longer: “the bipartisan consensus among elites (Congress in particular) about economic issues that characterized the 1960s has given way to the deep ideological divisions of the 1990s. . . . Previously orthogonal conflicts have disappeared or been incorporated into the conflicts over economic liberalism and conservatism. Most importantly, issues linked to race are now largely expressed as part of the main ideological division over redistribution” (McCarty, Poole, & Rosenthal, 2001, 1-2).
But this argument is challenged (Heckman & Snyder, 1997), and it is even less clear that the American public similarly lines up along a single ideological dimension or is becoming more polarized. The major presidential candidates’ efforts in the past three elections to portray themselves as bipartisan cooperators suggest that campaign consultants do not think voters are increasingly polarized. The most systematic analysis of public opinion similarly finds little increase in polarization; only on the issue of abortion rights (and slightly, attitudes toward the poor), and only among Republican and Democratic party identifiers, did the extremes gain at the expense of the middle over the past thirty years (DiMaggio, Evans, & Bryson, 1996).
The absence of polarization is not in itself sufficient to claim the presence of overlapping cleavages. But it is necessary. Another line of analysis shows at least two dimensions along which the American public is arrayed. One is distributive, following the basic left-right line that elites appear to be increasingly toeing. The other has been variously identified as social, moral, cultural, or religious. The most recent of these analyses distinguishes groups by moral and economic conservatism, and finds that votes for candidates Bush and Gore must be understood in terms of both dimensions (Brady, 2001; for earlier analyses, see Scammon & Wattenberg, 1970; Gerring, 1999). This too is not yet Dahlian pluralism, since we lack evidence of whether people sometimes vote in accord with their moral views and at other times vote differently, in accord with their economic views. We also lack good evidence about whether these dimensions are stably distinct over time, or whether one is superceding the other (as has apparently occurred among political elites). But having at least two separate and politically salient dimensions along which people array themselves is another necessary if not sufficient condition for pluralistic cross-cutting cleavages.
For my purposes, the key question is whether partisanship or policy preferences line up with characteristics associated with identity politics more or less than they used to. The evidence shows a clear decline, then possibly a recent rise, in cleavages cutting across racial lines. There are, plausibly, three stages. From the 1940s through the early 1960s, the two parties’ platforms, presidents and congressional delegations, and nonelective party activists were not sharply distinguishable in their views on racial issues. Race or gender had little impact on the structure of voters’ beliefs or their party identification (Carmines & Stimson, 1989). But from the 1960s through the 1990s, African Americans and women increasingly became Democrats, while whites and men inclined toward the Republicans. Party platforms, Congressional votes, views of party activists, and other indicators all changed dramatically so that one party became identified with racial liberalism and the other with racial conservatism (Carmines & Stimson, 1989; National Election Studies, 1998; McCarty et al., 2001).
But racial and ethnic politics may again be shifting in a more pluralist direction. One analyst argues that even during the 1980s, “racial attitudes had very little influence on party identification among… whites. Other issues, especially those involving the scope of the welfare state and national security, played a much larger role in driving many whites away from the Democratic party” (Abramowitz, 1994, 1). Another set of researchers found, to their surprise, that as of 1990 racial or ethnic group consciousness had no impact on Americans’ levels of political activity and that “there is considerable overlap in the issue concerns of Latinos, African-Americans, and Anglo-Whites” (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995, 355-356, 247).
Some Republican party strategists are working to once again dissociate political parties from racial identification. “If we remain a party of all white Southerners we’ll be a dead party by 2010,” says one former Republican National Committee aide (quoted in Grann, 1998, 12). The fantastically rapid increase and fairly rapid dispersion of Latino immigrants is mostly driving this new attentiveness to nonAnglos; after all, officials of both major parties have pointed out that “if Mr. Bush were to win the same percentage of minority voters in 2004 as he did last year, he would lose by three million votes” (Schmitt, 2001).
Are these Republicans chasing a will-o-the-wisp? Not necessarily, even among African Americans. Almost three in ten blacks now describe themselves as politically conservative and those numbers have risen slowly but steadily since the 1970s. An additional two-fifths are “moderate” (Public Perspective, 1998,55; GSS and NES). Latino voters are an even more likely prospect over the long term. During the 1990s, up to two-fifths of Hispanics described themselves as conservative and another two-fifths were moderates. Fifteen to twenty-five percent identify as Republicans, and ten to forty percent more are independents (depending on the survey and how one categorizes “leaners”).
Republican hopes are not yet close to being fulfilled, at least for blacks. Only five to ten percent of African Americans identify as Republicans, a number that has not increased since the 1970s (NES and GSS); only nine percent voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. But a nontrivial number of black Republicans is not inconceivable in the future. One- to three-tenths of African Americans call themselves Independents, depending how the question is asked, one in seven voted for President Reagan in 1984, and almost one in five voted for George Bush Sr. in 1988. Thus a recent series of headlines--“Democrats Fear Loss of Black Loyalty;” or “Blacks, yes; Democrats, maybe;” or “GOP starts minority outreach” (Neal & Edsall, 1998; "Black Yes Democrats Maybe", 1998; Hallow, 1997)--is not as foolish as it might first appear. If Republicans could occasionally attract a fifth of the black population, whether those with good jobs and high incomes who are edging into economic conservatism or those often with less education and lower incomes who espouse religious and moral conservatism, overlapping cleavages would begin to return.
Republicans have already attracted at least that level of Hispanic voters. Between three-tenths (New York Times exit poll) and four-tenths (Los Angeles Times exit poll) of Latinos voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, and at least a quarter have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every presidential election since 1976, with one marginal exception (Connelly, 2000).
Asian Americans split their votes even more; roughly forty percent voted for George W. Bush and even higher percentages preferred his Republican predecessors in the previous two presidential elections. Almost a third call themselves conservative and over a third, moderate; twenty to thirty-five percent identify as Republicans and thirty to fifty percent as Independents, depending on how the question is asked (GSS and NES. On Asian Americans, see Lien, 2001).
A brief look at some important policy concerns gives further grounds for pluralist claims. There is little racial or ethnic disparity in preferences for governmental action on particular policy issues, so long as they are not associated with race in any explicit way. Across the four major racial and ethnic groups, we see greater disparity across issues than across groups in preferences for Congressional action with regard to welfare or medicare reform, budget balancing, and personal or corporate tax cuts. Affirmative action policy generates some group-level disparity, and abortion policy even more (Washington Post et al., 1995, 73-74). These are, of course, the policies that evoke the greatest passions and revolve least around material interests. But overall, the Madisonian structure largely obtains; Anglos, who would be the largest and therefore most dangerous faction if they held together, break up into smaller factions with different views on a variety of policy concerns, each of which can find allies across racial and ethnic lines.
In short, there are reasonable grounds for thinking that pluralism defined as interlocking cleavages and even as a melting pot reasonably describes some features of American politics. We would need to look at more understandings of pluralism as well as causal trajectories showing how pluralism takes hold and flourishes, even in an era of dramatic demographic change, in order to say much more about it. Here I simply note its robustness before turning to its converse, identity politics.
Identity politics has about as many definitions and nuances as pluralism, and here too I can only suggest its contours. Proponents assert that membership in a group with deep cultural, psychological, normative, familial, and historical meaning –and sometimes with linguistic, religious and geographical meaning as well–forms the essence of one’s political persona. Identities usually involve a sense of having inherited or been chosen, rather than deliberately or rationally choosing to be of a particular race, gender, religion etc. They usually include an intense commitment to keep the identity vital through many generations in the future. As Michael Sandel puts it, we are not “bound only by the ends and roles we choose for ourselves.” Rather, we can “sometimes be obligated to fulfill certain ends we have not chosen –ends given… by our identities as members of families, peoples, cultures, or traditions” (Sandel, 1994, 1768).
Identity politics understood in this strong way create one’s interests, shape one’s opinions, engage one’s passions--but they are not reducible to opinions, passions, or interests. Above all, identity politics as I use the term here implies a rejection of the classic liberal value of the right to be treated only or mostly as an individual without reference to ascriptive characteristics, in favor of the right to be treated as a person who is partly or largely defined by those ascriptive characteristics.
To claim that identity politics represents a totally new political stance would be silly. Many crucial events of American history, from the colonization of Massachusetts and Maryland through the civil rights movement, occurred because of clashes among people committed to particular identities. But identity politics is arguably now playing an unprecedentedly powerful role in peacetime national public life. Illustrations of this claim include assertions that challenges to bilingual education programs are attacks on Latinos, the social cachet now attached to recognition as a member of an Indian nation, the passionate demand for a multiracial category on the U.S. Census, and courts’ use of the standard of the “reasonable woman,” instead of the (presumably generic) “reasonable man” or “ person.” Not until this year did any conservative presidential candidate make “diversity” in his Cabinet a central campaign pledge. These are changes that would alarm Madison and the Dahl of “overlapping cleavages.”
Identity politics rejects the melting pot in favor of celebrating difference. “Universalism of the World War II era served to deracinate and to efface the varieties of humankind by using a too parochial construction of our common humanity, . . . [and] served to mask a cultural imperialism by which the NATO powers spread throughout the world their own peculiar standards for truth, justice, and spiritual perfection. . . . Universalism itself is too dangerous an ideal.” Thus “our mission . . . is not to purge the old universalism of its corruptions but to renounce it as fatally flawed and to perfect instead the local and the particular, to live within the . . . unique civic, moral, and epistemic communities into which we are born, to devote ourselves to our ethnos.”
The precise nature of each group’s, identity-based claims is distinct and idiosyncratic. Chicanos, for example, rely heavily on history:
Comparison to European immigrants . . . is . . . fallacious. . . . The presence of Mexicans in American society precedes immigration. . . . What is now the Southwest . . . is defined by an indelible Mexican stamp. This has allowed Mexican immigrants whether they came in 1950 or 1994 to join the heirs of Mexicans who lived in the region prior to 1848 in making what is in effect a primordial claim on the Southwest. Participating in this claim allows Mexican immigrants to develop a unique psychological relationship to American society, one which no other immigrants legitimately share (de la Garza, 1994, 5-6).
More simply, as one of my students proclaimed on his T-shirt, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Thus Mexicans claimed coverage under the Voting Rights Act (which Congress granted) and affirmative action, not on the grounds of poverty or immigrant status or simple discrimination, but as compensation for the fact that “rights as codified in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo . . . had been systematically violated” (de la Garza, 1994, 12).
Asian-Americans also cite historical uniqueness, but perhaps a more powerful claim is social and cultural. In this view, the “American racial geometry” has two dimensions–superior/inferior, and similar/different. Whites have racialized Asians as superior to blacks though inferior to whites, and as inassimilable and more different from whites than are blacks. This geometry appeared starkly in exclusionary immigration laws, restrictions on property ownership, and controls on naturalization (Kim, 1999). Descendents of Japanese immigrants, but not of Germans or Italians, were interned in World War II; most Asian immigrants were made eligible for citizenship only in 1952, almost a century after African Americans were recognized as citizens in the Fourteenth Amendment. Almost all Asian-Americans living outside an ethnic enclave can tell the anecdote of being asked when he or she came to the United States. Given this racial geometry, the president of the Korean Association of Southern California is not alone in proclaiming that “we’ll never be white people no matter how long we’ve lived here. We cannot afford to live in America scattered and isolated. Only through unity can our people protect our rights and pass on a great legacy to our children” (Han Mo Koo, 1979, quoted in [Hing, 1997, 229]).
Identity-based claims among African Americans, of course, are extensive, complex, and well-known; I will not attempt to summarize them here. One telling comment will serve as a placeholder for another huge literature. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton testified in the 1997 Congressional hearings on the possibility of a multiracial category on the U.S. Census. She, along with spokespeople for the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, argued against the proposed category on the grounds that
At one point, blacks thought they might mitigate the effects of being black by claiming something else in their heritage. “Oh, I am black, but I am also American Indian. . . .” Oh, it was so pitiful. About the only thing that American racism did for us is saying no, you are one or the other. . . . So I sit here as a light skin black woman and I sit here to tell you that I am black. That people who are my color in this country will always be treated as black. . . . We who are black have got to say, “look, we are people of color, and we are readily identified. Any discrimination against one of us is discrimination against another” (Norton, 1997).
Madison’s constitutional democracy is, for better or for worse, endangered by deep factionalism among large, mutually distinct racial or ethnic groups. But it faces an even deeper threat in the presence of a majority faction that “sacrifice[s] to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” That threat focuses our attention on the identity politics of European Americans. Again, one quote will have to stand in for the growing literature on “whiteness” and the history of white domination and exclusion:
Through most of U.S. history, lawmakers pervasively and unapologetically structured U.S. citizenship in terms of illiberal and undemocratic racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchies. . . . Rather than stressing protection of individual rights for all in liberal fashion, or participation in common civic institutions in republican fashion, . . . restrictions on immigration, naturalization, and equal citizenship . . . manifested passionate beliefs that America was by rights a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon ancestors (Smith, 1997, 1-3).
I return below to the subject of distortions in democratic practice caused by the presence of a white majority faction; for now, suffice it to say that identity politics is not the exclusive property of minorities protesting some feature of American political practice.
How much do ordinary, nonactivist Americans ascribe to identity politics? If we set up identity politics and pluralism as opposites, we can start to answer that question by examining the flip side of the survey data used above to demonstrate pluralism. This is conceptually and politically crude, but it is a useful starting point.
In 1994, almost three in ten blacks, almost two in ten Hispanics, and almost no Anglos thought of themselves as members of “some particular group” (rather than as just Americans) when asked to “think of social and political issues.” A year later a quarter of whites and over a third of blacks disagreed that “the U.S. is a melting pot” (CNN/ U.S.A. Today, 1995). In four surveys between 1994 and 2001, substantial minorities of those with clear opinions in all three of the largest groups agreed that racial and ethnic groups should maintain their distinct cultures (GSS 1994, 1996, 2000; Gallup Organization, 2001, I: 23; see also Sears et al., 1999, 53-58). Identity politics does not predominate in surveys, but neither is it trivial.
The 1999 Latinos in America survey shows how complex, or possibly volatile, are Americans’ views about the relationship between pluralism and identity politics. About three-fifths of Latinos thought it “very important” for racial and ethnic groups to “change so that they blend into the larger society as in the idea of a melting pot.” But in the next question, two-thirds also agreed that it is very important for ethnic groups to maintain distinct cultures. Similar results obtained for Anglos and, especially, African Americans (Washington Post et al., 1999, analyses by author). Respondents may have been confused, or this may be a dramatic case of social desirability response set. But possibly Americans do not, in fact, see the melting pot and distinct identities as mutually conflicting; they may be enacting Horace Kallen’s “democracy of nationalities.” This is an issue for further exploration, begun below in the discussion of coalitions.
A crucial question for Madisonian constitutionalism is whether identity-based groups are merely distinct or are competitive with, even hostile to, one another. The former is bad enough from the perspective of Federalist No. 10, since it moves political dynamics far away from interactions among small, fluid, interest-based factions. But the latter is worse since it is likely to generate precisely the instability and contention that opponents of democracy continually warned of in the late eighteenth century. Again, this is a huge topic which I can only touch on here; again I rely on survey data as a shorthand indicator of the complex analysis needed to sort all of this out.
Every survey finds that blacks see the most discrimination, both against themselves and others of their race and against other nonAnglos (especially Hispanics). But questions that ask for rankings of victimization from bias, not just overall levels of victimization, reveal a sharp racial/ethnic divide. In the 1995 Washington Post survey, in which I noted above more division across nonracial policy issues than across groups, we see a different pattern when questions explicitly address race. African Americans think that their group suffers the most discrimination by a huge margin; Latinos think their own group suffers just as much as, in their view, blacks do. All groups, including Asian Americans, agree that Asian Americans do not win that dubious honor. Here are the seeds of antagonistic identity politics, not only in the old form of blacks versus whites, but also in a new contest between blacks and Hispanics. This implies trouble for a Madisonian republic.
Responses from another survey sharpen the threat of enmity that always attends identity politics. Asked to identify groups other than their own with whom they feel the most, and the least, in common, respondents provide a striking pattern. Whites feel most in common with blacks, who feel least in common with whites (as well as with Asians). Blacks feel most in common with Latinos, who feel least in common with them. Asian Americans feel most in common with whites, who feel least in common with them. Latinos feel most in common with whites, who feel little in common with them. Each group is chasing another which is running from it.
Even this quick overview shows that identity politics has enough vitality that it, like pluralism, cannot be dismissed as an organizing principle for understanding factions in contemporary American politics. That conclusion would dismay Madison. It need not dismay us, of course, and it in fact might gratify those who share the view that Hollinger articulates. Just how much they will feel gratified, and what the consequences of identity politics will be for the future of American democratic politics, depend on whether identity-based groups move toward competition or coalition. I turn now to that subject.
Finding evidence of vibrant interracial or interethnic coalitions would be one way to reconcile the apparently contradictory findings that both pluralism and identity politics are flourishing. That is, people may act out of a strong sense of their own group identity, and express that identity in part by allying temporarily with others outside the group to pursue shared interests (which may themselves be closely linked to or distinct from identities). Identity politics provides the motivation; the practice generates a kind of pluralist interaction.
Identity-based coalitional politics, like pluralism and identity politics, can take many forms with various trajectories. Interracial or interethnic coalitions may be an transitional step between pure identity politics and a politics of multiple small, interest-based groups. Dahl usefully depicted sociologists’ classic assimilationist theory through a political lens. Who Governs? “hypothesize[s] that an ethnic group passes through three stages on the way to political assimilation.” First, almost every recent immigrant is poor or in the working class, and “ethnic identification color[s] his life, his relations with others, his attitudes toward himself and the world.” Immigrants demonstrate a “high degree of political homogeneity. [Their] ethnic similarity is associated with similarity of political attitude, and there is a pronounced tendency toward voting alike.” These people act as though they are engaged in self-conscious identity politics (even if they are not), in the sense that their opinions, passions, and interests all stem from their immersion in a particular ascriptive group.
In the second stage, group members begin to move out of identity politics and become more socially and economically heterogeneous. “Although the political homogeneity of the group declines…, even the middling segments retain a high sensitivity to their ethnic origins. Consequently an ethnic candidate who can avoid divisive socioeconomic issues is still able to activate strong sentiments of ethnic solidarity in all strata of his ethnic group.” This is the stage of coalition politics–via electoral tickets balanced between an Irishman and an Italian, voting districts balanced between those with a majority of blacks and those with a majority of whites (or, more recently, Hispanics), or agreements among civic elites to let blacks run the schools and whites retain control of the downtown business district.
In the third stage of assimilation, descendents of immigrants are very heterogeneous socially and economically. “To these people, ethnic politics is often embarrassing or meaningless. Political attitudes and loyalties have become a function of socioeconomic characteristics. Members of the group display little political homogeneity. . . . The political effectiveness of a purely ethnic appeal is now negligible among the middling and upper strata” (Dahl, 1961, 32-36; for later versions, see Waters, 1990; Alba & Nee, 1997). They have moved out of identity politics into pluralism, organizing their political life around fluid factions based on interests, or factions based on opinions and passions that cut across racial and ethnic lines.
Dahl argues that the politics of Germans, Irish, Italians, and Russian Jews in New Haven (and by extension, other cities) followed this assimilationist trajectory. “Negroes” were still in the second stage in the late 1950s, but Dahl never suggests that they will not follow the same well-worn path. If the argument about straight-line assimilation is correct, new Americans move from identity politics, through coalitional politics, into Madisonian interest-based politics, which are perhaps leavened by racially-neutral opinions and passions.
Identity-based coalition politics might take a different form. Visionaries on the American left have promoted interracial working-class alliances ever since there were enough white laborers and free African Americans to make such an alliance imaginable. In their view, such coalitions are not a way station on the road to crosscutting cleavages or a melting pot; they are a means of gratifying interests and fulfilling moral commitments through the political resources generated by racial or ethnic identities. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres, for example, seek to show “how racialized identities may be put to service to achieve social change through democratic renewal” by “build[ing] a progressive democratic movement led by people of color but joined by others.” After all,
those who have been raced as ‘losers’ or as marginalized will often be among the first to see the pernicious effects of normalized inequality. . . . [They] will also be more motivated to understand those patterns of access to social power. As a result, those who have been marginalized or left out could be well-positioned to lead a movement for social justice that others will want to follow if they can frame that movement to speak to conditions of injustice that disfigure our social institutions more generally (Guinier & Torres, 2002, 17)
A third type of coalition is a pragmatic interracial or interethnic alliance intended to enable small groups to win victory in a political system that rewards voting majorities and large influxes of resources. Their motto might be Benjamin Franklin’s, “we must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Log-rolling coalitional leaders do not expect particular racial and ethnic groups always to ally with one another; that depends on whether interests consistently coincide and whether the groups can develop successful working relationships. Pragmatic or log-rolling coalitions are pluralism at the group rather than the individual level; identity-based factions come together for particular purposes and then separate when they judge that they will gain more by working with a different group on another issue.
Judging by citizens’ expressed sentiments, there should be no difficulty in developing intergroup coalitions, especially of the pragmatic kind. At least ninety percent of all respondents to a 1994 survey are “willing to sit down with” members of the group with whom they feel least in common in order to “work out ways for you both to… get drug pushers out of the neighborhood,” “help the schools teach kids what they really need to learn to succeed,” or “protect each other’s children from gangs and violence.” Latinos were slightly less willing to ally than the other groups, but differences across racial or ethnic lines were small (National Conference, 1994, appendices). Other survey responses hint at the possibility of progressive interracial alliances based on the shared status of disadvantage. In 1984 and again in 1996, four in five blacks agreed that an alliance of racial and ethnic minorities, poor people, and women “could decide how this country is run” (Jackson, 1984 [hereafter 1984 NBES]; Tate, 1996 [hereafter 1996 NBES], analyses by author). Similarly, in 1993, over half of blacks agreed that Latinos, Asian Americans and “other disadvantaged groups are potentially good political allies for blacks” (Dawson, Brown, & Jackson, 1993 [hereafter 1993 BPS], analyses by author). Three-fourths of black women agreed that their “fate is linked to that of women,” and over half agreed to the same linkage when asked specifically about “white women” (1993 BPS). At least twice as many members of all four groups in 2001 as in 1995 reported that “tensions between racial and ethnic groups have . . . decreased . . . during the last ten years.”
Perhaps more persuasively, we have no difficulty in finding examples of the three types of coalitions. Coalitional politics along the way to assimilation include, for example, programs for transitional bilingual education in public schools, the traditional and still important balanced ticket for local elections, even former Secretary of the Interior James Watt’s infamous boast that he had put together the perfect coal-leasing commission, comprised of "a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple.”
Progressive coalitions have more cachet among academics, and here too successes can be found. Reading the same demographic projections as every one else, labor unions have begun to woo immigrant workers by expressing concern about immigrants’ rights and support for amnesty for illegal immigrant workers. The dynamic here is perhaps similar to that of a few decades ago, when some unions promoted civil rights claims in order to recruit newly-urbanized African Americans. After the federal courts ruled that affirmative action at state universities in Texas was illegal, legislators from poor rural Anglo districts provided the margin of votes to pass the “ten percent solution” bill sponsored by blacks and Hispanics (Guinier & Torres, 2002). The Industrial Areas Foundation sustains interracial cooperation to promote community development by “rel[ying] on its members’ shared commitment to broad religious principles,” by ensuring that its “issues originate from local consensus and thus are consensual, not divisive . . . [and] always framed in a race-neutral manner,” and by permitting its organizers to “also serve . . . in other organizations or enterprises that address race- and neighborhood-specific issues” (W. J. Wilson, 1999, 87; Warren, 2001). In other words, racially- or ethnically-based groups provide the structure within with IAF activists emerge, but IAF itself carefully avoids racial claims or issues. It is a brilliant, and largely successful, strategy for creating progressive pluralism out of identity politics.
Finally, pragmatic log-rolling coalitions exemplify the cliché, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Black inner-city ministers provided the staunchest support for President George W. Bush’s initiative to expand faith-based social services, while clergy from affluent white suburbs held back. Self-identified black nationalists have allied with white Republican mayors and conservative foundations to create publicly-funded school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Some Chicano activists allied with Republicans and conservatives in California to abolish what they perceived to be a failed and stigmatizing program of bilingual education in public schools. Anglo libertarians have joined black nationalists to protest racial profiling and stringent controls on nonAnglo groups in the wake of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.
On balance, progressive coalitions have proven harder to sustain and less likely to succeed than assimilationist or pragmatic coalitions. Socialism and populism both foundered at the turn of the twentieth century at least partly because shared interests and ideologies were too weak to overcome ethnic conflicts (in the first case) or racial bias (in the second). African Americans and Hispanics have tried for decades to unite behind mayoral candidates in New York and Chicago; despite occasional successes (Harold Washington for two terms, David Dinkins for one), they have mostly failed. The reasons for failure varied: they were not able to institutionalize gains made in liberal administrations (note the dissolution of agencies created by New York’s Mayor John Lindsay once he left office in 1973), or they could not agree on a single strong candidate (note the proposed candidacy of Herman Badillo in 1985), or the administration had so much internal dissension that allies deserted (note decline in Latino support for David Dinkins between his first and second campaigns), or they splintered once a charismatic leader no longer held them together (note the consequences of the death of Harold Washington). These two cities are not unique; moderate or conservative white politicians have recently proven more adept at appealing to nonwhite immigrants than have liberal black politicians. In Los Angeles, Gary, Philadelphia, as well as in New York and Chicago, white conservatives have won enough support from Latino (and other) voters to replace or defeat black liberal mayors.
The structure of American politics (perhaps of all politics) gives a powerful incentive to develop coalitions with some opponents in order to win a fraction of what a group wants. Thus coalitional politics are not new; what might be new is a growing number and influence of coalitions in which the factions are organized around ascriptive identities rather than around individualistic opinions, passions, and interests. Such factions would be astonishing to Madison, but not as fearful as a more pure identity politics. Such factions can also seem like a betrayal of what matters most or a reassuring step toward a safer political equilibrium, depending on whether one views them from the vantage point of identity politics or Dahlian pluralism.
Toward Madisonian Factionalism
Some analysts of contemporary American politics fear that the rising visibility of assertive racial or ethnic advocates is fragmenting at least the Democratic party (Gitlin, 1995) and at most the whole polity (Schlesinger, 1992; Bernstein, 1994). They endorse instead, variously, class-based coalitions, melting pot pluralism, or simply a focus on issues that really matter (Jacoby, 1994). Whether their concerns are warranted depends on the trajectories of pluralism, identity politics, and the hybrids of coalitional politics. I am not foolhardy enough to make clear predictions. The structure of American racial and ethnic interactions is too complicated and the evidence is mixed or even flatly contradictory. More importantly, too many outcomes are contingent on personal and political choices not yet made and circumstances not yet faced. I will, however, conclude with observations about the nature of Madisonian constitutionalism.
The American constitutional regime has not in fact, until recently, been very Madisonian. This seems an odd statement given scholars’ increasing recognition of Madison’s centrality in the constitutional framing of the United States. Nevertheless, American politics has been largely organized around the fact of white racial domination for most of our history. Majority factionalism, involving passions and opinions as well as self-interest, was not absent from the polity created by Federalist No.10; rather, the whole constitutional structure was predicated on an unspoken assumption that only people with one identity could be political actors. They were propertied white men.
This fact is in some sense obvious to any student of American history, but its importance has been insufficiently recognized by most analysts of democracy in America. A simple illustration of the point lies in James Q. Wilson’s recent discussion of the four conditions that “have underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies.” The third was “homogeneity. . . . At the time democracy was being established, . . . [ethnic] diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English. . . .” (J. Q. Wilson, 2000). But the United States was not overwhelmingly English in 1789 (and in any case, well over half of its English inhabitants lacked the franchise); it simply practiced a form of identity politics that makes contemporary advocates look like pale surrogates.
During the succeeding two centuries, additional groups fought their way into the realm of legitimate political actors–first propertyless white men, then black men for a period, then white women, then Asian immigrants, then young adults, and finally black men and women. For the first time in history, Americans now live in a polity in which virtually all adult citizens can participate–thus eliminating the majority faction intrinsic to the first century and a half of American constitutionalism. The right question then becomes: is American politics moving toward the kind of factionalism that Madison envisioned but never saw?
The question is surprisingly new. African Americans have been full members of the polity for barely a generation, about fifteen percent of the time that the United States has been a constitutional republic. Asian immigrants have been allowed citizenship for barely two generations. Even now, the United States is not, and probably will never become, a colorblind nation with no racial or ethnic discrimination. But the political structure is now in place so that, for the first time in American history, members of all races and ethnicities can choose whether and how to move from identity politics to coalitions to pluralism, or in the other direction–as whites have been able to do for a long time. The recent growth of a vigorous national-level politics of identity, and its move into a variety of coalitional forms, means that Madison’s constitutional aspiration is coming closer to reality. The future of democratic politics in the United States might now be brighter than it has been at any point in the past.
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 The melting pot has not been as benign in practice as this image suggests. It can be psychologically and legally coercive, as in “Americanization” programs of the early twentieth century (Gerstle, 1997). Resistance to the overweening and offensive variants of melting pot belief and practice provides much of the energy behind identity politics.
 Topline results for the GSS and NES are available, respectively, in Davis, Smith, & Marsden (2001) and National Election Studies (1998); results for particular groups are from analyses by the author. Except where noted, I combined the GSS and NES (bi)annual surveys into three periods, 1972-80, 1982-90, 1992-2000. These periods coincide with the beginning of the GSS, and with presidential elections that signaled the end of one political era and the beginning of another. The periods also yield large enough sample sizes for blacks and, sometimes, Hispanics. My thanks to Steven Minicucci, now of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, for his invaluable research assistance.
 Results are from GSS for 1994, 1996, and 2000; from Washington Post et al. (1999) for 1999; and from Gallup Organization (2001, I:23) for 2001; analyses by author. There were too few Asian Americans in all of these surveys to report results.
 GSS and NES. In the GSS, but not in the NES, the proportion of Latino conservatives, and the proportion of Latino Republicans, increased in the 1990s from the two previous decades. See also de la Garza, Falcon, Garcia, & Garcia, (1990); Washington Post et al. (1999, analyses by author). Public Perspective (1998, 55-56) provides similar results for Americans with Mexican ancestry.
 In addition to the usual “house effects,” the number of reported independents depends on how hard “leaners” are pushed to declare themselves as more Democratic than Republican or vice versa (NES and GSS).
 David Hollinger, quoted here, opposes this view (Hollinger, 2000, 58-59). Iris Young, among others, endorses it: “the traditional public realm of universal citizenship has operated to exclude persons associated with the body and feeling–especially women, Blacks, American Indians, and Jews. . . . The meaning of ‘public’ should be transformed to exhibit the positivity of group differences, passion, and play” (Young, 1990, 97).
 GSS 1994 (the sample contained fewer than sixty Hispanics). In 2001, only twelve percent of Asian Americans described themselves as “an American” tout court; an additional fifty percent thought of themselves as Asian American or, especially, [their ethnic group]-American (Lien, 2001).
 “A possible great and truly democratic commonwealth . . . would be . . . a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind. . . . The political and economic life of the commonwealth is a single unit and serves as the foundation and background for the realization of the distinctive individuality of each natio that composes it and of the pooling of these in a harmony above them all” (Kallen, 1998 , 114-116.
This phenomenon may also be described as nested identities, in which local or particularistic identities fit neatly within national or even international identities ((Díez Medrano & Gutiérrez, 2001).
 In this 1994 survey, Anglos, blacks, and Latinos all were less likely to identify Asian Americans than any other group as the group with whom they feel the most in common--lending support to Kim’s analysis of identity politics among Asian Americans. The 2000 GSS asked the same question and got similar results on this point. Only twenty-two percent of Anglos and four percent of blacks (among those giving substantive answers) claimed to have most in common with Asians; fully fifty percent of Anglos and fifty-four percent of blacks among those answering claimed to have least in common with Asians.
 American Indians did not enter his discussion. Nor did Asians or Hispanics since, with a few local exceptions, there were few immigrants from those parts of the world in the fifty years before Dahl wrote.
. (Washington Post et al., 2001, 26). Blacks and Hispanics were still slightly more likely to report an increase than a decrease in racial tensions; the other two groups were about evenly split. All groups were most likely to report “stayed about the same.”
NCCJ asked a similar question in 1993 and 2000 about current levels of “racial, religious, or ethnic tension.” More blacks reported tension in 2000 than in 1993 at all four arenas (at work, with police, in their children’s school, and in their neighborhood). Latinos expressed few differences except for a rise in tension with the police; Asians reported small but consistent rises in tension in all four arenas. We lack comparable data for whites, but in 2000 they generally reported less tension than all of the other groups for all four arenas. Nevertheless, except with regard to the police, no more than a quarter of respondents in all groups in both years reported racial, religious, or ethnic tension in their daily lives (National Conference for Community and Justice,1994; National Conference for Community and Justice, 2000, analyses by author).
 Contemporary analysts often reject the straight-line assimilation model in favor of a model of segmented assimilation, in which only some members of a new immigrant group move through the stages from poverty and (perhaps unwitting) identity politics to greater wealth and pluralism. The rest of the group, in this view, are likely to remain poor, isolated in ethnic enclaves, and politically inactive, at least in conventional electoral arenas. Even in this view, however, better-off immigrants are presumed to move from identity politics through coalition politics and, in some cases, into conventional interest-oriented politics (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Jones-Correa, 1998).
 This point suggests a fourth type of coalition which, if it thrives, will generate a new relationship between pluralism and identity politics. It is conservative racial nationalism, a combination of conservative policy positions and strong cultural nationalism or even racial separatism. It is the converse of the progressive rainbow coalition; I do not address it here because it is even less common and has demonstrated even less political or substantive clout.
 Although it was in fact recognized by Madison himself as well as other framers and Alexis de Tocqueville. They were uncomfortable about the “white,” uncertain about the “propertied,” and oblivious about the “men” (Ellis, 2001, ch. 3).
 In many states, felons are excluded from the vote, and they are becoming a surprisingly important exception to any claim about “all adult citizens.” A complete analysis would also need to address complications having to do with Native Americans, Mexican guest workers, and illegal immigrants.