How do societies respond to great demographic change? This question lingers over the contemporary politics of the United States and other countries where persistent immigration has altered populations and may soon produce a majority minority milestone, where the original ethnic or religious majority loses its numerical advantage to one or more foreign-origin minority groups. Until now, most of our knowledge about large-scale responses to demographic change has been based on studies of individual people’s reactions, which tend to be instinctively defensive and intolerant. We know little about why and how these habits are sometimes tempered to promote more successful coexistence.
To anticipate and inform future responses to demographic change, Justin Gest looks to the past. In Majority Minority, Gest wields historical analysis and interview-based fieldwork inside six of the world’s few societies that have already experienced a majority minority transition to understand what factors produce different social outcomes. Gest concludes that, rather than yield to people’s prejudices, states hold great power to shape public responses and perceptions of demographic change through political institutions and the rhetoric of leaders. Through subsequent survey research, Gest also identifies novel ways that leaders can leverage nationalist sentiment to reduce the appeal of nativism—by framing immigration and demographic change in terms of the national interest. Grounded in rich narratives and surprising survey findings, Majority Minority reveals that this contentious milestone and its accompanying identity politics are ultimately subject to unifying or divisive governance.