The Myth of the Hispanic Vote

Inevitably, the subject of immigration reform will be addressed in this country.  Instead of the Republican Party running from the issue, they should at the forefront of the issue.  But first, this need not be a hand-over to the Hispanic voting block.  The Hispanic trend away from the Republican vote started in 2004 when they voted greater than 50% for John Kerry.  In 2008, more than 60% voted for Obama.  This was generally true in states with large Hispanic populations.  What may be disturbing about that is the fact that John McCain ran counter to some of the more conservative tenets of Republican policy when it came to immigration reform.  That is, instead of viewing McCain as a potential ally in the issue, they voted for the Democrat anyway.  The Democratic Party had portrayed McCain as being anti-Hispanic when, in fact, his previous record was the opposite.

The statement that Latinos will, in the coming decades, overtake blacks as a percentage of the population needs to be heeded as demographic fact and reality.  However, this should not be perceived as a threat against the Republican Party.  This represents an opportunity for the Republicans to have Latinos identify more readily with the core values of the Party.  This can be achieved through a three-pronged effort:  recruitment, education, and reform.

As regards recruitment, it is vital that the Republican Party seek out viable Hispanic candidates at all governmental levels.  Latino Republicans are few and far between, but they are existent.  It is an unmistakeable fact and cultural reality that blood is thicker than water.  With Blacks, for example, they generally vote 85-15% for Democrats (sometimes higher) despite the race of the Democrat.  However, if it is a black Democrat, the split is more like 96-4%.  The same dynamic would be demonstrated with Latinos.  Running a mediocre Republican Latino against a higher-caliber white or black Democrat in a area rich in Hispanics would lessen the votes for the Democrat most likely.  In essence, you merely have to run a Republican with a Spanish surname to gain recognition and votes in Hispanic rich areas.  That is, they will identify first through cultural identity and secondly by party affiliation.  Although there are different cultural dynamics at work between Florida and, say Arizona, the popularity of a conservative Latino Republican- Rubio- in a state that is trending blue with a high Latino population underscores this phenomena.  Hence, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for Republicans to recruit and support Hispanic candidates in Texas, California, Arizona, or even the New York metropolitan area.

A greater effort at recruitment is a must for the Republican Party in order to keep up with demographic reality.  The recruitment need not be nationwide, but merely in districts with large Hispanic populations.  Lest anyone forget, although 67% of Hispanics voted for Obama, another 33% did not.  It is from these people that the recruits must be sought.

It needs to be noted also at this point that if every Hispanic voted for Obama in Arizona or Texas, Obama still would have lost these states to McCain.  Much has been made of the effect of the Latino vote in Colorado “deciding” that state for Obama.  However, a closer analysis shows that Hispanics had very little effect in deciding the vote in Colorado.  For now, the cries from the more rdaical elements in the Hispanic community that they must necessarily be heeded as a voting block to be courted on the way to electoral victory is statistically false and better left to the decidedly not funny monologue of George Lopez.

The best way to recruit is through the second prong- education.  Statistics obtained on the Hispanic immigrant population demonstrates that they are essentially conservative in nature.  They place a high degree of respect in traditional family values.  Additionally, the longer they are here- that is, assimilated- the greater their degree of conservatism.  Here, Republicans need to have a consistent message of lower taxes, less government. of greater personal responsibility and less federal nannyism, of fostering an environment of entrepreneurial success.  These are all values that should appeal to conservative Hispanics.  Those same studies demonstrate that assimilation occurs within a single generation.  For example, the Republican Party has long had a greater identification with the pro-life movement and this is but one social issue that can be used to Republican advantage with Hispanics.

Another important factor is the youth vote, an area where Republicans have traditionally suffered and are getting worse.  That trend can be stymied and/or reversed by focusing on young Hispanics.  It is estimated that Hispanics make up 33% of the population age 18-35- the very age demographic Republicans have difficulty winning at any level.  Through educational efforts, all Hispanics, especially the younger ones, must be convinced that their lot in life and that their future is better served through Republican policies and values.  The conservative culture of Hispanics has already laid the substrate upon which the Republican Party can build an advantage.  However, it is also a fact that Hispanics are not necessarily willing to break ranks with Democrats over single issues- especially highly partisan ones- like abortion or school prayer.  Which is why the Republican Party should concentrate more on fiscally conservative policies rather than social issues in the Hispanic community lest they appear as pandering for their vote.  Additionally, most public polling of the Hispanic community indicates that their concerns and priorities roughly mirror those of the general population as a whole.  As concerns immigration issues, among the general population it ranks 6th and 5th among the Hispanic community, but still low as concerns percentage.

Florida can be used as an example.  In Florida, a large Cuban population trends towards the Republican Party.  While the majority of Cuban immigrants came to this country for political reasons, those in the southwest (Mexicans) came for economic reasons.  Until 2004, Hispanic voting behavior over time has been fairly steady and regionally based.  Mexican-Americans in California and Puerto Ricans in New York have traditionally voted for the Democrat while Cuban-Americans in Florida have supported Republicans.

While the Hispanic population as a whole is increasing on the national level- in 2008 they accounted for 9% of all voters- those who actually cast votes tend o have higher incomes (that is, they ae more successful) and have higher educational levels.  For example, in California Hispanics account for 36% of the population, yet they represent only 18% of all voters.  The numbers are low because Hispanics from Mexico tend to be younger and poorer (thus less likely to vote), or illegal (unable to vote).  Many studies have indicated that once they become legal or older, their overall voting patterns are not unlike those of other groups.  That is, although they represent a growing voting block, it is not one that is necessarily monolithically Democratic.  The reason Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican is due to two factors.  First, most were openly welcomed by Republican asministrations for political reasons as they fled Communist Cuba.  Secondly, once here, they have thrived economically and they identify that success with the Republican Party.  The recent decline in the Hispanic vote in Florida for Republicans is not due to a defection of the Cuban-Americans, but the fact that Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are increasing (especially in the Orlando area) which dilutes the Cuban vote.

There are obvious differences between the various Hispaniv groups that can exploited.  Chief among them is the Mexican-American vote.  Cubans already readily identify with the Republican Party while Puerto Ricans identify with the Democratic Party.  Mexicans trend Democratic but that can be changed by, in effect, “Cubanizing” them.  That is, by stressing hard work and individual effort- not government hand outs and largesse- success can be had.  No one disputes the fact that they are hard workers- it is why they are here in the first place.  Politicizing this strength and their natural conservatism could bring them closer to the Republican Party.  And one need not win over all converts.  A 10% swing in the Hispanic vote in Colorado, for example, could have made the state more competitive in 2008.  In effect, this is a policy of neutralizing current trends while assimilation can occur.

Most experts agree there are three things needed to facilitate these goals.  First, Republicans must be willing to appear before Hispanic groups, but with a consistent message- not one tied to a specific issue or local issues- but one that stresses broad-based goals and outlines to demonstrate that their concerns can be better addressed by the Republican Party.  The belief that an appearance before a Hispanic group must necessarily address immigration reform is inaccurate.  Generally, the same things that concern the general population also concern the Hispanic population- the economy, jobs, and opportunity.  Second, Republicans need to deliver a consistent positive message of these goals in Spanish-speaking communities bilingually.  Third, they need to put forth substantive policy proposals and illustrate how they help not only America as a whole, but also the Hispanic community if they wish to join all Americans.  Although immigration reform may be a concern in the Hispanic community, it is not at the top of their agenda.  Additionally, Hispanics place a great emphasis on education and Republican policies that improve and enhance educational opportunity are a great starting point.

Because the educational effort is more long-term and ongoing, there are a couple of steps to use in the short term.  Laws like those upheld by the Supreme Court in Indiana requiring photo identification to vote should be the norm in every state.  There will be the expected cry of voter suppression from the Democratic Party.  But, does it make sense to allow individuals not to vote to actually vote?  What does greater harm to the electoral system- allowing corporate money to be used for campaign advertising or allowing ineligible people to cast a ballot?  Democratic arguments that these laws lead to vote suppression is correct only to the extent it suppresses the vote of those who are not permitted to vote anyway.  Their logic in these assertions is ludicrous.

According to unions and Democrats, they believe that illiegal immigrants suppress American wages, although statistics does not bear this out.  That is because illegal immigrants do not compete with the average American for the jobs in which they are most concentrated.  But, they do compete with one segment of the potential workforce- young, low-skilled American workers- generally speaking, high school drop outs.  Because drop out rates are highest among African-American youths, illegal immigrants compete directly with these individuals for available jobs.  Hence, phrasing the argument in this manner could possibly win votes over to the Republicans from younger blacks to offset the general Hispanic Democratic trend.  The argument needs to be that in addition to addressing the illegal immigrant question in this country, it is also an attempt to help black youth.  Hopefully, for every two Hispanic votes lost, the blow can be lessened by a black vote gained.

In the interim, a very important demographic point needs to be made.  While many Hispanic journalists and pundits are touting the increasing political strength of this group, how this affects election outcomes is overstated.  For example, had every conceivable Hispanic in Texas voted for Obama in 2008, McCain still would have carried the state.  The same is true of Arizona.  In Colorado, which Obama carried, had every Hispanic voted for him, it would have increased his margin of victory by only two percentage points, yet a 10% swing to the Republicans would have made McCain more competetive, while splitting the vote would have created a virtual tie (a difference of maybe 10,000 votes).  In Nevada, where the margin of victory was slightly smaller, a split Hispanic vote could have won the state for McCain.  This demonstrates that like any other voting block, any particular group makes a discernible difference in only close races.  It is hard to decipher whether Hispanics, or young voters, or college-aged voters, or any other group are responsible for the victory and worthy of special recognition from the Party.  Although they may be in two decades from now, Hispanics are not the monolithic voting block they portend to be.  It would make absolute political sense to lay the seeds now for that future Hispanic vote through recruitment, education, and reform.