Politics and Public Opinion

What message were Hispanics really sending Republicans?

Image credit: Sasha Y. Kimel (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image credit: Sasha Y. Kimel (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Mitt Romney got crushed by President Obama among Hispanic voters. He captured just 27% of them while the president hauled in 71%, nearly tying his party’s 30-year high. This lopsided margin, combined with the slow but inexorable increase in the Hispanic share of the voting population, has led to commentary from seemingly all directions telling the GOP that it must—must—find a way to win these voters over.

But how? A few points to keep in mind:

1. Although this year’s Republican showing among Hispanics was bad, it was still better than the party’s nadir during the 1992 and 1996 campaigns, when the first George Bush captured 25% of the Hispanic vote and Bob Dole managed a measly 21%.

2. Growth of the Hispanic voting population has been very, very slow. In 2004, Hispanics made up 8% of the electorate. In 2012, they made up 10%. It took Hispanics 8 years to increase their proportion of the electorate by 2%. Moreover, the nation’s bad economy over the last four years has slowed down the rate of immigration, so fewer new Hispanics are entering the political system than during the 2000’s.

3. As my colleague Andrew Rugg points out separately, it is vital to realize that Hispanics care about more than just immigration. According to the Pew Research Center, the top 4 issues in the 2012 election among Hispanic voters were the economy (60%), health care (18%), the budget deficit (11%), and foreign policy (6%).

Of course, Hispanics do care about immigration more than the average American voter. And there are signs here that the Republican Party needs to reevaluate its position if it wants to have a chance with Hispanics. According to the exit polls, 77% of Hispanic voters said that illegal immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status while just 18% of them said these folks should be deported. Compare that to an overall rate of 65% in favor of legalization and 28% who want them to be deported.

Immigration is a threshold issue for Hispanics. They care about other issues more, but for them this isn’t a theoretical or hypothetical situation: Fully 60% of Hispanics who voted this year say they know undocumented immigrants. For them, GOP criticism of illegals as a drain on our nation’s resources are direct attacks on people they know. According to Latino Decisions and impreMedia, 31% of Hispanics would be more likely to vote Republican if the party supported comprehensive immigration reform.

4. Most Hispanic voting behavior can be explained primarily by non-ethnic considerations. For example, as the chart below shows, there was a wide difference in voting behavior among Hispanics making less than $50,000 and those making more. This tracks with overall voting behavior, which shows that poorer Americans favor Democrats while wealthier Americans favor Republicans. Likewise, young Hispanics were more likely to vote Obama than older Hispanics, just as with all Americans overall. This implies that Hispanics are a fairly standard political constituency overall, they just happen to lean more towards the Democrats as a whole than white voters.

Bottom line when it comes to Hispanics: They are a vital and growing voting bloc, but they care about the same issues as other Americans. Because of their demographics—they tend to be younger and poorer than the average American—they gravitate naturally to the Democratic Party. Moreover, the GOP’s hostile tone on immigration turned them off from the party and has made them unwilling to even consider voting for their policies. After all, even if you agree with a politician’s policies, if you believe that he dislikes people like you or wants to deport your aunt, you’re not going to vote for him.

4 thoughts on “What message were Hispanics really sending Republicans?

  1. Conservatives and Republicans do not need to change their principles so much as they need to change the delivery of those principles. (Speaking as both a conservative and a registered Republican)

    The GOP cannot simply adopt a compromise position on ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’ and then assume any more Hispanic voters are going to swing to the right. The Democrats will always be a step further left, promising more freebies and accusing the Right of race-baiting, xenophobia, et al. It’s a given. To begin a recovery, it’s necessary for us to come to grips with basic first principles, and find the most effective way of communicating those principles to people outside the ‘right wing bubble’. In other words, simply pandering (or fear-mongering) to identity-groups (as Democrats do) is not a long-term strategy.

    If illegal immigration is wrong, and if our immigration laws should be enforced, the GOP should be able to articulate those reasons clearly. If our immigration laws need to be reformed, then the problems need to be clearly explained, and the proposed solutions actually presented and discussed honestly, instead of cutesy little labels like ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’ or ‘DREAM Act’ or what-have-you.

    • You are too optimistic. The scales have tipped permanently. You can’t beat a birthrate. Its the same in other western countries. More civilized people have fewer children; 3rd world people have more. Inevitably the 3rd world rules and civilization goes down (at least) a notch. Evolution in reverse.
      “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
      And human nature is incompatable with democracy.
      Most people are not bright enough to see the consequences (how many?) years down the road. It’s all about, me me me and now now now. Let the next generation deal with it. That’s their problem, assuming they even think that far ahead. Ignorance is bliss. That’s great if you don’t have children. If you do, and don’t deceive yourself about consequences, you worry.
      The American experiment has failed due to modern day “Liberal” thinking. “Break china laughing” Jefferson Airplane

  2. This comment was posted on TPM today in response to an article on Romney’s conference call Wednesday with campaign donors. It speaks volumes to the issue:

    Proud Citizen • 2 hours ago −
    As a Latino that was the first person in his family to graduate from college (a State college at that) and graduate from a law school and work at a big law firm in New York City, I want to go on the record that the statements that Mr. Romney made at today’s conference call are completely disgusting. As a Latino, I did not vote for Mr. Romney because he fundamentally does not understand the issues that most effect me. Yes, I make a $100K a year but not just because I work hard, I make that salary because of the hard work of my parents that helped me pay for college, I also owe part of my success to the union jobs that my parents had that provided them with decent wages and healthcare to take care of me growing up, I also owe a huge debt to the State of NY and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that educated me. You see, Latino culture understands and appreciate the fact that we achieve success through the sacrifice and hard work of others that help us along the way. Romney refuses to understand that, therefore he was not able to win our votes.
    166 1 •Reply•Share ›


    • I am happy for you. You are making lots of money. I wonder if my children will be as happy when they are stuck paying your bill. So far people like yourself have racked up $112,000 in debt for my each of my two children. Since you are doing so well maybe you could begin paying them back. Attached find a contract committing you to $1200 / mo for the next 30 years. We have given you a low interest rate as you credit is quite good. I can’t say my children were generous as they really had no say in lending you this money (they are not legally able to vote) but I am sure you are grateful and would be happy to replace the money you have spent. After all, my children didn’t spend it, you did.
      “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

      Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. GDP grew by only 4.26%, but the U.S. national debt soared by 61% during that same time period.

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