The GOP’S His­panic panic

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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