Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hispanics

Changing Demographics and the GOP

In his most recent column, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz summarizes data from the demographer William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion. According to Mr. Frey, “the United States is in the midst of a pivotal period ushering in extraordinary shifts in the nation’s racial demographic makeup.”

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In his most recent column, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz summarizes data from the demographer William Frey, author of Diversity Explosion. According to Mr. Frey, “the United States is in the midst of a pivotal period ushering in extraordinary shifts in the nation’s racial demographic makeup.”

Among the highlights found in Mr. Balz’s column:

  • We’re witnessing the rapid growth among Hispanics, Asians, and multiracial populations. All are expected to double in size over the next 40 years. We’re also seeing declining growth rates and rapid aging of the white population, the result of both lower birth rates among younger white Americans and the advancing age of the Baby Boom generation.
  • We’re seeing the continued growth of the black middle class and the migration among black Americans from North to South, reversing the historic South-to-North wave of migration in the 20th century.
  • By later in this century, there will be no majority demographic group in the United States.

As for politics:

  • In 2012, for every 10 votes Mitt Romney won, nine came from white voters. Barack Obama won eight out of every 10 votes cast by a minority voter.
  • In 2008 and 2012, minority voters provided the key to victory for Mr. Obama in seven states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado. It was also decisive in Indiana in 2008 and Wisconsin in 2012.
  • Changing demographics have afforded Democrats opportunities to compete in states that once were reliably Republican. That’s already happened in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Democrats may also become more competitive presidentially in states like Arizona (because of the Hispanic population) and Georgia (because of the growing African American population).
  • Mr. Frey points to six northern states—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa—whose demographic makeup may be better for Republicans. Their populations are older and whiter than those in the newer battlegrounds of the Sun Belt, and their electorates are composed of more white, blue-collar voters. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have been reliably Democratic in recent presidential elections (Ohio and Iowa have been more competitive).

It’s certainly true that Republicans have done extremely well–historically well–in the last two midterm elections. The GOP is now the governing party in America, if you take into account the political composition of the Senate, the House, governorships, and state legislatures. It may also be true that Barack Obama is sui generis; his appeal to rising demographics may not translate to other Democrats nearly as well as it did for him. Still, Republicans are kidding themselves if they don’t acknowledge that changing demographics are working to the disadvantage of Republicans. As William Frey told Balz, “In the longer term, [Republicans] absolutely have to be much more open to minorities and make a much more serious attempt to deal with Hispanics.”

Exactly how to do this remains an open question. But that it needs to be done is undeniable, at least if the GOP hopes to win on the presidential level on a consistent basis.

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Phyllis Schlafly and the Road to GOP Ruin

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

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In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

But Ms. Schlafly’s comments provide a good opportunity to call attention to recent remarks by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute. Among the points made by Olsen:

  • The election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. Seventy-two percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. That bloc includes people of many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. But while there’s no monolithic white vote any more than there is a monolithic non-white vote, the racial differences are still stark.
  • Mitt Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20 point lead. No candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost the presidency. Governor Romney lost, by four points. He lost by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Among Hispanics, Romney lost 71 percent v. 27 percent.)
  • In every election since the 1996 election, like clockwork, the share of the non-white vote has gone up as a share of the total voters by 2 percent and the share of the white vote has gone down by 2 percent, much of that stemming from Hispanic population increases.
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic shrinkage in the African-American vote, a Republican candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record high among African-Americans, plus a record high among Asians, plus a record high among Hispanics, plus a record high among those people who don’t classify themselves in any of those categories, or are American-Indian or Hawaiian or Aleut, to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote.

Now these data points by themselves don’t mean Republicans should support the immigration reform legislation that is being crafted in the Senate. That legislation needs to be judged on its substantive merits. It’s also true that Mitt Romney did not appeal to white working class and blue-collar voters in anything like the numbers he needed to in order to win. But of course one can do both: appeal to rising immigrant groups and white working class voters. It’s not an either/or proposition.

In addition, the data points cited by Olsen do indicate that the strategy Ms. Schlafly is recommending–which is that Republicans should give up on Hispanic voters, who will never vote for Republicans anyway, and simply reach out to white voters–is a path to permanent political minority status. Republican presidential candidates are already doing fantastically well with white voters. The problem for the GOP is that they are a shrinking percentage of the electorate (from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012).

As for the Schlafly mindset, Michael Gerson and I addressed it in our recent essay in COMMENTARY, when we wrote this:

Conservative critics of such [immigration] reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.

Phyllis Schlafly has lost the ambition to convince, which is just one reason why her counsel should be ignored. 

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Rubio to the Rescue

In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

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In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

Senator Rubio also understands that while immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet for the GOP, the immigration issues is “a gateway issue for Hispanics… No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here, it’s difficult to get them to listen to anyone else.”

That’s right; and that is what the modern GOP had done, for reasons that strike me as substantively wrong and politically unwise. There are ways for Republicans to deal with illegal immigration without coming across as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration.

Conservatives like Marco Rubio are perfectly situated to begin to correct that problem, and the sooner, the better.

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Poll: Can the GOP Win Over Hispanics?

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

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Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney, a steep drop from 2004 when 44 percent voted to reelect George W. Bush. It’s still not the lowest of recent elections–in 1996, the GOP won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote–but as an increasing share of the electorate, the Hispanic vote is becoming ever more critical.

While there isn’t a lot of good news here, the Resurgent Republic poll (which can be read in full here) did find room for growth and common ground. One area that Republicans can work on is the tone of the immigration debate. Hispanic voters may not be monolithic when it comes to immigration policy, but there are sensitivities the GOP might want to keep in mind when discussing the issues:

The tone Republicans use to discuss immigration has an impact on Hispanics who are not directly affected by the issue. Some Republicans argue that harsh rhetoric and policies regarding illegal immigrants will not affect Hispanics who are American citizens. But this survey suggests otherwise. All Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Yet Mitt Romney lost Puerto Rican voters in Florida by 64 to 36 percent, one of the main reasons why Obama won the state. Many Hispanic Americans take attacks on undocumented Hispanics as an attack on the entire Hispanic community.

There is also room for outreach when it comes to federal spending, taxes and regulations:

While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Republicans probably won’t be able to win the majority of Hispanic voters. But it seems that  there is room for significant improvement–especially since many lean right on social and fiscal issues. And with the number of Hispanic voters growing, that could be enough to swing a future presidential race.

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What Romney Calls “Gifts,” Voters Call Solutions

The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

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The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”…

“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

Romney is not wrong in suggesting that demographic groups preferred what they heard from Obama to what they heard from Romney, but he is wrong in his characterization of it. First of all, there are many reasons Obama won reelection, not least of which is that he apparently had a 52 percent approval rating on Election Day.

Second, the obvious objection to Romney’s comments is that his own version of the health care reform plan served as a model for Obama’s. Did Romney think he was giving away free “gifts” to minorities and young voters when he designed the plan? Or did he think he was serving the people who elected him by solving a quality-of-life issue for the entire state of Massachusetts? In politics, it’s easy to impugn the motives of your opponent, but it’s fair to say that Obama targeted what he and many Americans saw as an economic hardship and a great injustice, especially to the poor. Romney may or may not agree with that, but I doubt he would take well to someone characterizing his signature achievement in office as crude politicking or vote buying.

And that gets to the larger problem with these comments. A very large portion of this country sees our immigration laws and those in favor of even stricter measures as a moral failure on the part of a country of immigrants. Hispanics don’t see “amnesty”–a path to citizenship–as a “gift” in exchange for their vote. It isn’t candy; it’s the difference between opportunities for their children and their families being torn apart.

Republicans don’t have to agree with liberal solutions to the problems facing the country. But they certainly should not ridicule the need for reform at many levels of government–indeed, they should embrace it, for much in our federal government needs reform. And making broad statements about jobs isn’t enough. To wit, the Romney message to Hispanics was that he will create jobs here but he wants them to “self-deport,” thus making those jobs unavailable to them anyway. In such a case, why on earth should they care what his jobs plan is?

Obama offered specifics, and Romney offered principles. But conservative principles should lead to conservative solutions–specifics, in other words. Romney doesn’t seem to have understood this. But he should take a look around his party. Republican governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, Rick Perry, and others offered voters the combination of conservative principles and conservative policy proposals. It is a winning combination, even in blue New Jersey. And it can be a winning combination nationally as well. That’s the lesson Romney should have learned on Election Day.

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