Saturday, November 10, 2012

The GOP's Real Hispanic Problem

In 2004, George W. Bush won 44% of Hispanics voted to re-elect President George W. Bush.  Four years later, John McCain, a promoter of comprehensive immigration reform, garnered only 31% of the Hispanic vote.    Last Tuesday, only 27% of Hispanics voted for the GOP presidential nominee, Willard "Mitt" Romney.  He and Senator McCain were perceived as indifferent or even antagonistic toward Latinos.

No unanimity has emerged among Republicans as to how to win a greater share of the Hispanic vote.   Some want the party to re-examine its positions while others believe messaging and candidates with Latin faces will do the trick.

Many, however, recognize there is at least a problem.   The Washington Examiner's Byron York cited "Romney's failure to appeal to Latino voters."  Prominent CNN contributor and proprietor of Erick Erickson maintained "At the same time, Romney made a conscious decision to blow off Hispanic voters. Yes conservatives, we must account for this. The Romney campaign to the Hispanic community was atrocious and, frankly, the fastest growing demographic in America isn’t going to vote for a party that sounds like that party hates brown people."

And the editors of the libertarian-leaning right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page argued  

Perhaps most damaging, Mr. Romney failed to appeal more creatively to minority voters, especially Hispanics. His single worst decision may have been to challenge Texas Governor Rick Perry in the primaries by running to his right on immigration. Mr. Romney didn't need to do this given that Mr. Perry was clearly unprepared for a national campaign, and given the weakness of the other GOP candidates. (Tim Pawlenty had dropped out.)

Mr. Romney missed later chances to move to the middle on immigration reform, especially Senator Marco Rubio's compromise on the Dream Act for young immigrants brought here by their parents. This created the opening for Mr. Obama to implement the core of the Dream Act by executive order, however illegally, and boost his image with Hispanic voters.

The exit polls show that Mr. Romney did even worse among Hispanics than John McCain in 2008, and we may learn in coming days that this was the margin in some swing states. The GOP needs to leave its anti-immigration absolutists behind.

(Note to the editors:  Obama's action was not that of an Executive Order but an administrative action, undertaken by order of the President and executed by the Secretary of Homeland Security.   But you're wrong about almost everything else, anyway.)

Clearly, since immigration (or illegal immigration; we'll say "immigration" for ease and use Hispanic/Latin/Spanish-speaking interchangeably) became a national issue, Republicans have been routed among voters of a Spanish-speaking background.    The party has been perceived, accurately, as generally less sympathetic to their interests.

Consider, though, that Mitt Romney stated definitively that he is opposed to "rounding up" Hispanics, a practice common in the Obama Administration as ICE has had the temerity to raid the workplaces of bosses employing illegal immigrants.   He took heat for recommending, during the primary campaign, "self-deportation," an unfortunate phrase which was politically damaging, though  he explained "people mak(ing) their own choices as to whether they want to go home & that's what I mean by self-deportation."   While opposed to what the Wall Street Journal termed the President's "Executive Order," Romney stated that he would not return to the nation of origin those young people authorized by the current president to remain in the U.S.A.  As on most matters, the views of the G.O.P.'s nominee were ambiguous and confusing.

Inarguably, the Republican Party has lost serious ground nationally among Hispanics while failing to accrue support from other voters over its approach to immigration and related issues.   However, immigration is a national issue to Hispanics, but to other voters in only a few states.

Primary among the latter is Arizona.   There (interactive map, here), Senator Obama captured 45.1% of the overall vote to his Senator McCain's 53.7% in 2008, a deficit of 12.6% for the Democrat.  But the GOP candidate was from Arizona, and speculation ensued that President Obama could capture the state's electoral votes in 2012, especially given its growing Latin population.

In 2012, however, facing a candidate from Massachusetts (and Michigan and Utah), Obama managed to garner only 44.1% of the vote to Mitt Romney's 54.3%.  This deficit of 10.2% was only a slight improvement for Obama in a state in which the share of the Latino vote was projected to increase 23.2% since 2008.

The Hispanic vote in Arizona is not huge but at roughly 12.0% of the electorate, represents a greater share than in the nation at large.  Still, the Democratic nominee was defeated, although he undoubtedly won a majority of the Hispanic vote in the state. That appears to run counter to the prevailing narrative, especially because immigration is a bigger issue in Arizona than anywhere else in the nation.

Although counter-intuitive, Obama's failure in Arizona is not "incredible" or "unbelievable" but may be due precisely to the salience of the immigration debate there.   Elsewhere, immigration is of relatively little importance as an issue, leaving primarily Hispanics as the only voters to whom it is central.   By contrast, in Arizona, immigration is a primary issue, sometimes dominating the debate. Voters of all ethnic groups and political persuasions are engaged.  And there, not coincidentally, the candidate of the party less congenial toward immigration won in the presidential race- and in the U.S. Senate race as well.

Republicans have not been pummeled primarily because they have taken a hard-line on immigation.  They have been pummeled because they have tacked right, alienating Latinos, while simultaneously failing to engage the larger American community, much of which is severely displeased by high immigration levels.  They have missed out on the opportunity to mobilize support among anti-immigration voters as Hispanics, who have a heightened interest in the issue, have turned away from the party.

It may be hard to understand why a major political party would allow an issue to gain currency with one group, which thereupon flocks to the other party, and neglects to raise the issue to such a level of concern that other Americans would be energized to vote for it.   Hard, but not impossible.

There are two major factions in the GOP- the electoral base and the donor base.   Most voters registered as Republican are not enamored of high levels of immigration (or what they perceive as high levels).   But money flows into the GOP coffers from corporations or individuals or interests associated with corporations.  Those players are far less hostile to immigrants who, as luck would have it, double as hard-working employees.   Native-born American citizens, certainly, are available to work.  But the presence of large numbers of immigrants exerts a downward pressure on wages and benefits and, besides, employing other individuals might entail hiring blacks, which some businesses no doubt would find unpleasant.

This may be an oversimplification.  However, it is less so than conventional wisdom:  1) there are more Hispanics voting than ever before; 2) most Hispanics are voting Democratic; 3) Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections.  Therefore,  Republicans must favorably address the needs of Hispanics in order to win another national election.


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