How Dire is the Situation with Hispanic Voters for Republicans?

How can conservatives and Republicans reach out to Hispanic voters in the future?

This question has been the topic of much discussion among the politicos since Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to Barack Obama. 71% of Hispanics voted for Obama compared with only 27% for Romney. As Hispanics are becoming a larger and larger fraction of the American population, the argument goes that their vote will become more and more important in coming years. Republicans will thus have to do a better job at attracting the Hispanic votes if they wish to remain viable nationally (specifically, and conveniently, by supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Read: amenesty.)

Is that true? If so, what must Republicans and conservatives do to persuade Hispanic voters? I’ll examine each of these questions in the next couple of articles, but first let me say that it is important to reach out to everyone with our conservatism regardless of whether they end up voting for us. Outreach cannot simply be a cynical electoral process. It must also be about changing the hearts and minds of all Americans toward the conservative point of view.

Having said that, let me suggest that even if the GOP cannot substantially increase their percentage of the Hispanic votes, all is not lost. First, the demographics moving toward a substantial Hispanic vote are not quite as overwhelming as the talking heads have made them seem. Further, the GOP isn’t necessarily in danger of losing the Hispanic vote nearly to the extent that they have, say, the black vote. Finally, there are other demographic areas in which the news is promising for the GOP.

The electoral element of the argument that Republicans need to do better with Hispanics rests on the premise that Hispanics are and will continue to be a rapidly growing population in comparison with the rest of the United States. Though it is true that Hispanics are the fasting growing demographic group in America, their growth will likely not continue to be as extensive as it has been. Sean Trende, Jonathan Last, Michael Barone and others have explained various aspects of this argument, such as birth rates and immigration. I made it elsewhere months ago.

I said, in part:

Hispanic-Americans indeed have a higher birth rate than the average American at 2.35, but their birthrate is also falling. Furthermore, the birthrate of immigrants is falling faster than that of native-born Americans: from 2010 to 2007, the rate for immigrants fell by 14% compared with 6% for the native-born. Immigrants from Mexico specifically saw a drop in birthrate of 23%. As for the issue of immigration, illegal and otherwise, birthrates and population growth affect the number of people who emigrate as well. As birthrates have dropped all over Latin America, so too has the number of those who have left for places like America. Immigration from Mexico has slowed to a trickle in the last few years, and not just because of the slow economy. Combine that with Hispanics who have repatriated in the last few years and net immigration is zero. For these reasons, we may not see as big a rise in Hispanics as a percentage of the American population as has been anticipated.

The Hispanic population itself is not necessarily so non-Republican as the 2008 and 2012 results made it seem. Republicans have done respectfully well in the last decade among Hispanics. George W. Bush won somewhere around 38% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. (There has been much debate over the exact number, with some arguing that it was even higher. I’ve found 38% to be the most likely number.)

Additionally, as my fellow Pocket Full of Liberty writer Amy Otto pointed out to me, 39% of Hispanics voted Republican in the Tea-Party dominated 2010 elections. Republicans have tended to perform better in mid-term elections because Republican voters are more reliable, as opposed to Democrat voters who tend to stay home unless there is a presidential race. Still, it is worth examining whether there are things Republicans can learn from Tea Partiers about attracting the Hispanic vote. I will do so in a future article.

Lastly, Republicans do pretty well among Hispanic Protestants and better than they do among Hispanics in general. George W. Bush, for example, won the Hispanic Protestant vote in 2004 – taking home 56% of the vote. This is important for a number of reasons. First, Hispanics as a whole tend to become more protestant after a couple generations of the living in the United States. Second, although Protestant Hispanics are only one-fifth of all U.S. Hispanics, they are one-third of voting Hispanics. Finally, Hispanic Protestants tend to be more religious and have a higher income, something that correlates well with voting Republican. This last point is important to how the GOP can attract Hispanics in the future and I’ll examine it next time.

The final reason why there is not cause for as much hand-wringing over the Republican share of the Hispanic vote as there has been is that there are promising indications for their future electoral prospects elsewhere.

First, the black vote – always overwhelming Democrat – has been unusually large and especially Democrat. This is not likely to continue. Though the black vote will probably not fall to historic levels, it will also probably not remain as high as it has been the last couple of presidential elections. However, as Sean Trende has pointed out, if it were only 11% of the total vote in 2012, rather than 13% as it was, and blacks voted 10% for Republicans rather than 5%, Mitt Romney would be our president today. There is a possibility that the numbers will start looking more like that in the future. Young black men, for example, are more likely to vote Republican than blacks as a whole.

Second, we have the case of the “missing white votes.” Approximately 6.5 million whites did not show up in 2012 as one would have suspected based on 2008 turnout. The argument for Republicans here goes that if they had a run someone less boring and pro-big business as Romney, millions more white voters would have shown up and won the GOP the presidency. Sean Trende believes that based on who the missing white voters where, Republicans might have expected to win 60%, even 70%, of these voters in the 2012 climate. To beat Barack Obama, they would have to win about 90%. Still, this is a substantial number of votes that Republicans might be able to tap into with a better candidate next time around.

Upon closer examination, the situation does not appear to be quite as dire for Republicans as has been said. Hispanics are not as far out of reach for the GOP and will not make up quite as much of the voting population in the future as the conventional wisdom would have it. Additionally, some bad electoral luck the last couple of times around made things look misleadingly bad for Republicans.

Still, conservatives can and should do a better job of outreach. It is important that Hispanics hear about conservatism, whether they ultimately vote Republican or not. How can we do better with them in the future? That is the topic for next week.