Class divides may cause rising conservatism in immigrant communities

Foreigner Affairs

Columnist Vinay Sharma points to class divisions as a culprit for the remarkable rightward swing by newcomer voters in recent elections, both locally and globally.

With the recent American elections behind us, people across the United States and Canada are understandably relieved at the prospect of some inkling of normalcy being reinstated. However, there are some difficult truths to confront. 

US election data shows evidence of a higher rate of Republican votes casted among Latino populations in states such as Illinois and Florida, as well Arab, South Asian and Eastern European immigrant-heavy counties in Illinois, contributing to a countrywide rightward political shift for counties with high immigrant populations. 

In Manitoba, the recent general election in 2019 shows a similar pattern. Ridings with a high number of racial and ethnic minorities also voted more conservatively. However, this is not a cause for alarm. To explore the underlying causes of this political trend, an economic political assessment is necessary.

In the 2019 Manitoba general election, districts such as Fort Richmond (where visible minorities make up 49.5 per cent of the population) and Waverley (where visible minorities make up 58 per cent of the population) both overwhelmingly voted for the Progressive Conservatives. 

There is clearly a blatant disunion between progressive politics and immigrant populations in these areas. But is this a cause for concern? 

Ridings such as Tyndall Park (where 61.9 per cent of the population consists of visible minorities) and The Maples (where visible minorities make up 67.7 per cent of the population) overwhelmingly voted on the left side of the spectrum, with most votes going to the NDP. This leaves the immigrant political scene in a perplexing situation.

It’s easy to think of first- and second-generation immigrants as a monolith with a groupthink mentality, yet the differences in these voting patterns likely boil down to class. Areas like Tyndall Park and The Maples house a stronger working-class presence, whereas ridings like Waverley are home to an upper-class population. 

A recent study about race relations conducted by the Winnipeg Free Press shows that conservative voters in Manitoba are less likely to identify race-related issues as a priority. 

It may seem counterintuitive to think that immigrants, many of whom are visible minorities, would align themselves with a party that doesn’t prioritize racial issues. However, I believe this is happening mainly due to first- and second-generation immigrants on the conservative side of the political spectrum who are focusing on their class interest, deeming it a priority.

This is an issue the left-leaning Green Party and NDP should address. If these communities prioritize class-related interests, then these parties should emphasize class to an even greater extent. This is where the battle for votes will be won. 

Many within higher-class immigrant populations will not prioritize culture over their economic position, and the working class will vote for parties like the NDP, because it is in their own material interest to do so. Social causes are great, but if their solutions don’t have an economic base, they remain empty.

This is why the stark class divide among immigrant voters may not be cause for alarm. It’s up to upper-class immigrant communities to overlook their class biases for the greater good, instead of the left-leaning parties conceding their stance on the economic issues at the expense of their working-class supporters.

Vinay Sharma is a third-year philosophy student. His main interests are political philosophy and the philosophy of language.

Published in Volume 75, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 28, 2021)

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