The GOP’S Hispanic panic
Apopular postmortem of the 2012 election is that demography is destiny. Minority voting was up, guaranteeing Barack Obama’s win. Liberal pundits saw the election as another milestone in the march toward a “majority-minority” country in which whites will be marginalized and Republicans doomed to demographic extinction.
Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, and Mr. Obama attracted just 39 percent. Nonwhite voters made up 28 percent of the electorate, according to an analysis by the Pew Center, up from 26 percent in 2008. Some say this trend guarantees that Republicans cannot win the White House without a radical move to the left.
The demographic argument centers on the Hispanic population, the largest and fastest-growing minority group. In 2012, Latinos opted for Mr. Obama by 71 percent to Mr. Romney’s 27 percent, compared to the 67-31 split in 2008. Hispanics this year made up 10 percent of the electorate, one point higher than in 2008 and two points higher than in 2004. Because Hispanics vote disproportionately for Democrats, the argument goes that this growth will lock out the GOP at the national level.
The implicit assumption is that Hispanic voters are driven to vote by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. A closer look suggests identity politics can be trumped by class interests. Hispanics, especially recent immigrants, have lower average incomes than whites and tend to vote more Democratic, like other lower-income groups. As Hispanics follow the course of other immigrant groups and achieve higher average income levels, they will begin to differentiate their votes accordingly. This dynamic is evident already. Among Hispanic households with less than $30,000 in income, 70 percent are Democratic to 15 percent Republican. Among those earning $75,000 or more, the split is 55 percent to 38 percent. The uncomfortable conclusion for Democrats is that they can best win the demographic race by keeping Hispanics poor.
Another flawed assumption is that Hispanic support for Democrats is linear and unchanging. In fact, the numbers have fluctuated.
Between 1999 and 2006, the Democratic advantage in party ID among Hispanics narrowed from 33 points to 21 points. It then widened to 47 points by 2011. At the presidential level, the voting gap between the two parties was highest in 1996 at 51 percent, but it fell to just 18 percent in 2004 before expanding again to 44 percent in 2012. Republicans interested in reversing this disadvantage would do well to examine what changed between 2004 and 2006 to interrupt what had been a favorable trend.
The conventional wisdom is that the GOP has swung too far to the right to appeal to Hispanics.
The assumption among leftist pundits is that brown-skinned people are somehow naturally liberal. Republicans who performed best among Hispanic voters at the presidential level tended to be the most conservative.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan got 37 percent of the Hispanic vote, and in 2004, George W. Bush set the contemporary GOP record with 40 percent. The worst performers have tended to be the moderates — Bob Dole with 21 percent in 1996, George H.W. Bush with 25 percent in 1992 and Mitt Romney with 27 percent. This may indicate that stressing conservative values such as hard work, faith and family is more compelling to Hispanics than pandering to liberal themes like victimization ideology and handouts. There is nothing wrong with U.S. electoral demography that cannot be solved through the pursuit of the American dream.