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November 07, 2012 5:24 PM The growing power of the Latino vote

By Kathleen Geier

Already, there have been countless analyses of why the Democrats did so well in this election, and countless claims that this or that group or factor was “decisive.” In any election, plenty of plausible arguments can be made to that end. In fact, there are always many factors that are “decisive,” in the sense that, without this or that particular factor/part of the coalition, a candidate or party wouldn’t be able to cobble together enough votes to win.

But no matter how you look at the 2012 election, there is no question that Latinos helped to decisively determine its outcome. Where the Latino vote is concerned, Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney. CNN’s exit poll shows Obama winning 71% of that vote, and the polling organization Latino Decisions measured even bigger gains for Obama, showing that Obama beat Romney by a whopping 75% to 23% among Latinos. In the electoral college, the Latino vote was crucial to Obama, particularly in the battleground states of Colorado and Nevada, which Obama won, and Florida (which, as of this writing, is undecided).

These results are part of a long, and from the Republican point of view, worrisome trend. According to official exit polls, Republican presidential candidates won 44% of the Latino vote in 2004, 31% in 2008, and 27% in 2012. Moreover, Latinos are continuing to grow as a share of the electorate: they were 8% of voters in 2004, 9% in 2008, and 10% in 2012.

There is no question that the Latino vote has not been heading in a good direction, so far as the G.O.P. is concerned. I’ve been skeptical about the kind of demographics-is-destiny argument made famous by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, which holds that population trends so strongly favor Democrats that the Dems will inevitably rise to power. For one thing, the meaning of race can change over time; the Irish became white, and so might Latinos or Asians. For another, as the country changes, so do our political parties, and I’ve long assumed that as the country becomes less white, the Republicans will find ways to peel off chunks of important nonwhite voters like Latinos.

But so far, this hasn’t been happening. It’s not merely that the G.O.P. has become the anti-immigrant party; the G.O.P.’s economic message does not appeal to Latinos either. Polls of Latino voters show that the economy is their top concern, with immigration a distant second. Latinos tend to find Democratic policies far more appealing; by wide margins, they like Obamacare and disagree with a Republican-style, slash-spending-only approach to the deficit.

Beyond that, there is good reason to believe that Latino voters’ alienation from the G.O.P. goes deeper than their dislike of the G.O.P.’s positions on immigration and the economy. Republican policies such as Arizona’s infamous show-me-your-papers law and the ban, also courtesy of Arizona, on Mexican-American studies classes have a very obvious, and very nasty, racist intent and impact. In addition, the racist treatment Republicans meted out to historic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will not soon be forgotten by Latinos. Latinos have also seen the nonstop parade of racism Republicans have directed against Barack Obama over the past four years, and surely they know that the white Republicans who judge Obama by his skin color are likely to feel similarly about Latinos. Republican racism may be a key reason why Latinos report they were quite enthusiastic about voting this time around, even more so than in 2008.

Finally, on top of the nastily racist policies and actions of the Republicans, there’s also the fact that the G.O.P. doesn’t even bother trying to court the Latino vote any more. At least Karl Rove was smart enough to understand the importance of the Latino vote, and he and George W. Bush did try to win Latinos over. Bush’s Spanish may not have been much better than his English, but he saw the way anti-Latino politics had destroyed the Republican party in California for the foreseeable future, and he didn’t want to follow suit. The fact the Republicans aren’t even trying to court the Latino vote these days speaks volumes. Latinos, like most humans, know when they’re not wanted. And since the Republicans don’t show any signs — yet — of wanting to invite anyone except white people, and preferably white people who older, male, married, and Christian at that, to their Grand Old Party, Latinos are likely to continue to flock to the Democrats en masse. For as long as that continues to happen, the Republicans will need all the luck they can get if they wish to become America’s majority party.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • liam foote on November 07, 2012 5:40 PM:

    It isn't merely the nonsense emanating from GOP leaders and politicians. Voices of the anti-Obama crowd can be read in the comments sections on virtually every story on Hispanics or immigration policy; many such offerings are not only often racist and unhinged, but hilariously wrongheaded. These include references to "illegal aliens" and "criminals" plus daft Fox-Rush talking points about Obama's "amnesty" program and my favorite, "anchor babies."

    Latinos represent one sixth of the US population and 600K become eligible to vote each year. Certainly, many of them read comments from the wingnuts, including insults to Hispanic culture and values. Gosh ... I wonder which party these readers might be inclined to vote for.

  • T2 on November 07, 2012 5:47 PM:

    well, you cannot become a majority party by having only a minority of supporters. The GOP/Conservatives know their days of riding white hatred into office are numbered...in fact yesterday's election may be the tipping point.
    That's why they spent Billions and ran behind a litany of lies, Voter ID and B.S. in order to scratch out a 50.1% win. Which they didn't get. Why? because they are now the minority. Forever.

  • Mimikatz on November 07, 2012 6:10 PM:

    After Roe v. Wade many right wing types, especially the religiously inclined ones, were persuaded to replace racism with abortion as their primary organizing issue. (Read Max Blumenthal's book Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement that Wrecked the Party for details). It seemed to soften them a bit and make them more respectable, broadening the possibilities of coalitions. But the election of Barack Obama brought all that racism to the surface once again. Latinos might have been receptive to the anti-abortion message (but maybe not, as Catholics as a group aren't nearly as militant on the issue as the Bishops) but certainly were repelled by the racism.

    And let's not forget the GOP belief, so prominently on display this time, that men know best and ought to make reproductive decisions for women. Young women particularly were repelled by this. I haven't yet found the figures, but would guess women were 54-55% of the electorate. You can't win by losing by 14 points with 55% of the electorate.

  • Keith M Ellis on November 07, 2012 6:32 PM:

    It's worth mentioning that evangelicals have been successful recruiting Hispanics (I'm from New Mexico, where hispanic is still the preferred term) even as the GOP has been alienating them. For this reason, with regard to these issues, conservative evangelicals are not monolithic on this and there's a pretty big portion who are far more liberal on immigration than are the Tea Party folk. All that is to say, I believe that evangelicals will, if anyone, play a strong role in bringing hispanics inside the "white" magic circle and push the GOP to alter its stance.

    However, there's an opposing force in this, too. The extreme social conservativism of right-wing evangelicals is proving to be badly out-of-step with the larger electorate. And, tellingly, they didn't get any of their preferred candidates nominated and, instead, it went to a member of the LDS, which many of them consider a "cult". They didn't deliver the voters to the polls that the GOP party establishment expected them to and I think there's some mutual disillusionment involved. So to the degree to which this is true is also the degree to which the evangelicals will have less influence in bringing the GOP around on Hispanics.

    Basically, the GOP has some very difficult waters to navigate. But it's not as bad as it might seem for them because this is a two-party system, after all. The core hard-right will grumble if the GOP moderates on immigration and/or social issues, but they will not abandon the GOP for the Democratic Party.

  • Helen Bedd on November 07, 2012 6:58 PM:

    two things....In 08 Obama won Hispanics in Colorado by 23 points...four years later he won them by 49 points

    And, nationally Obama won Catholics by 2 points while losing white Catholics by 19....He did it by winning Hispanics 75-21

  • Patience on November 07, 2012 8:55 PM:

    Although they're a smaller ethnic group, it seems like the GOP is close to losing Asian voters too, for similar reasons related to racial demonization-- think of the Romney campaign's China-bashing, Hoekstra's "yellow peril" Senate ad, Allen's 2006 "macaca" moment.

  • j on November 08, 2012 7:42 AM:

    Can anyone say what happens to the more than 600,000 votes still uncounted in Arizona?

  • BillFromPA on November 08, 2012 8:46 AM:

    The Villagers are now saying that the GOP is going to have a Civil War, the result of which is that the 'responsible', 'moderate' repugs will take the party from the 'Baggers and head to the center. Laughable! There are no moderate repugs at the national level and any GOPer who dares to head in that direction will be primaried out of existance. I LOVE the Tea Baggers! They saved us 3 Senate seats last cycle and more this time.

  • j on November 08, 2012 9:54 AM:

    Whatever happened to the terrible, awful Reince Priebus?