Why Hispanics are Natural Democrats and what the GOP can do about it

There has been no shortage of commentary on the impact of the Hispanic vote on the election outcome. Much of the Republican post-election commentary has focused on the failure of Romney to gather a sufficient share of Hispanic support. Much of the discussion is confused.

Two factors decide the impact of the Hispanic vote. One is the percentage of Hispanics who vote Republican. The other is how many Hispanic voters there are. Empirically, variation in numbers was far more important than variation in voting patterns.

Romney did not lose because he lost the Hispanic vote in some unusual fashion. Rather, he lost because of rising number of Hispanics. In 1992 Hispanics were two percent of voters, in 2012 ten percent of voters. If the Hispanic vote share would have been what it was in 2000, let alone 1992. Romney would have won. Romney however would not have won with the vote share Bush got among Hispanics with the current composition of the electorate.

The Hispanic vote is now finally large enough to win Democrats elections. Unlike what Karl Rove, Jeb Bush and Fox News might claim, this is almost entirely due to the growth of the Hispanic population share, not due to Hispanics having moved against Republicans. Hispanics have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in every election during the last three decades.

Here is a graph of Hispanic voting behavior 1980-2012. 

As you see, there has never been a majority of Hispanics voting for a Republican president. This even when Republicans have supported or even enacted an immigration Amnesty, the issue most commonly cited as key to garner Hispanic support. The variation in Republican support is fairly small. What turned out to be decisive in 2012 was hence the increase in the number of Hispanic voters. 

Romney received 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, marginally down from Comprehensive Immigration Reform enthusiast John McCain who got 31 percent. The highest vote share a Republican has received among Hispanics is Texas governor George Bush who got 40 percent post September 11th and right before the peak of the housing boom, and hence the peak of Hispanic economic fortunes. The forty percent Bush got was still a decisive defeat. Even though Republican President Ronald Reagan had granted illegal immigrants Amnesty in 1986, two years later only 30 percent of Hispanics voted for Bush Sr. 

The solution offered by many establishment Republican commentators such as Karl Rove, Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer is nonetheless…Amnesty! Amnesty will probably make a slightly larger share of Hispanics vote Republican, but historical experience proves that the effect is limited. Amnesty will however do this at the cost for Republicans of the Hispanic population growing further. Republicans will win a few more votes because Hispanics will become less anti-Republican but make Democrats gain many more votes because the Hispanic population share will accelerate upward. 

Making Hispanics a larger share of voters through Amnesty only makes strategic sense for Republicans if the GOP can get a majority or near-majority of the Hispanic vote once Illegal Immigration is out of the way.  

It is fashionable for Republicans to say that Hispanics are “Natural Republicans”, because they believe in ”hard work, entrepreneurship and family values”, or some similar combination of issues. They only vote against Republicans because the GOP is mean and doesn’t give illegal immigrants Amnesty. 

For example Charles Krauthammer writes that Hispanics:

should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example). The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.”

This claim is demonstrably false. In 2012 Hispanics solidly support the Democrats on virtually every issue, not only on illegal immigration. This includes taxes, the size of government and health care. Less known is that increasingly liberal Hispanics now also support Democrats on abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Why do Hispanics vote Democrat? The main reason is that Hispanics on average earn far less than Whites (henceforth “Whites” refers to non-Hispanic Whites). It is simply not in Hispanic material self-interests to vote for the party of limited government.

The main reason that people believe largely unsupported claims about Hispanics being “Natural Republicans” is that unflattering facts about immigration are considered gauche in US public debate. It is just not nice to point out that a large segment of a group is comparatively poor and low-skilled. Though confronting these facts frankly may be uncomfortable to some, doing so is crucial to the survival of the Republican Party.

1. Hispanics have low average income. According to the latest Census estimate, 42 percent of Hispanics are poor or near-poor, a higher share than African-Americans.

Isn’t it true that Hispanics work hard? Yes, it is. However, working hard and being well off is not the same thing. Hispanics in the United States on average have low levels of education and tend to work in low-paying professions. According to U.S Census

“Educational attainment of foreign-born Hispanics was lower than all other race, Hispanic origin, and nativity groups. The percentage of foreign-born Hispanics who completed at least high school was 48 percent. Although native-born Hispanics had higher educational attainment than foreign-born Hispanics, all other native-born race groups had higher educational attainment than native-born Hispanics“

The share of U.S born Hispanics who hold a college degree is less than half that of Whites, while more than twice as many U.S born Hispanics lack a high-school degree. 

This graph shows the average family income of Hispanics relative to Whites as calculated by the Census Bureau 1972-2011. 

Rather than converging, the disparity between Hispanics and Whites is growing over time. Hispanics on average earn forty percent less than Whites, a sizable disparity.

2. Not surprisingly Hispanics are ideologically more likely than average to agree with a big-government philosophy. In the 2008 Exit Polls voters were asked:  

“Which comes closer to your view, “Government should do more to solve problems” or “Government is doing too many things better left to businesses.”

This question strongly predicts voting for Democrats: three quarters of those who wanted bigger government logically voted for Barack Obama.

I looked at the micro-data to compare Hispanics with Whites. Among Whites voters only a minority supported expanding government even in the 2008 enviriment. That year 45 percent of White voters believed “Government Should Do More” and 55 percent believed ”Government is Doing Too Much”. Among Hispanics by contrast it was 71-29 in favor of bigger government. This fundamental outlook on the role of government is unlikely to vanish because of any Republican shifts on immigration policy.

Pew-Hispanic surveys Latinos about their policy preferences using a slightly different phrasing. In 2011 they asked: “Would you rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government or pay lower taxes and have a smaller government?

Hispanics chose big government and higher taxes by an astonishing 75-19 margin. Even third generation Hispanics are to the left of the general public. If you look at a previous Pew survey which broke out Whites, the corresponding numbers were 32-61, which means twice as many preferred smaller government to bigger government. Indeed Whites have been moving to the right on fiscal issues during the last three decades. The reason that the electorate is moving to the left is demographic transformation.

There is nothing strange about this. Anglo-Americans are culturally probably the most pro-capitalist group on the planet. It is not a coincidence that 8 of the 10 countries with the highest ranking in Economic Freedom Index are Anglo or former British colonies. 

There is no corresponding ethos of individualism, self-reliance, and distrust of government in Latin America. All those countries are all left-leaning, with large segments of the population idolizing Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez. Does Charles Krauthammer think Mexican voters in Mexico have supported the populist left for generations because of GOP opposition to illegal immigration? 

3. Hispanics are no longer particularly socially conservative. Hispanics are mostly catholic, not evangelical Protestants. As Hispanics integrate, they integrate towards socially dominant liberal values. About 53 percent of Hispanic births in 2011 were out of wedlock, hardly the epitome of family values. 

Pew Research Center concludes: “Latinos have often been characterized as more socially conservative than most Americans. On some issues, such as abortion, that’s true. But on others, such as the acceptance of homosexuality, it is not. When it comes to their own assessments of their political views, Latinos, more so than the general public, say their views are liberal.”

In another survey, after the Democrat shift on this issue Pew finds: More Latinos Now Favor Gay Marriage Than Oppose”, by a healthy 52-34 margin.

Reuters provides excellent detailed analysis of 2012 exit polls. Contrary to Charles Krauthammer’s wishful thinking, Hispanics voters supported the Democrat position on abortion (always or mostly legal) over the Republican position by a 57-36 percent margin!

Though they are mostly Catholic, Hispanics supported President Obama’s position that “health insurance organizations should be required to cover contraceptives” by a 68-11 margin. 

Remember, just because a group is church-going doesn’t mean they are Republican. African-Americans are the most church-going demographic in the United States and tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat. The long tradition of Catholics-liberalism is well alive in the Hispanic community. 

4. Hispanics support Democrats on policy issues other than immigration. In addition to exit polls, Reuters also provides data using a large sample of regular polls. By a overwhelming 73-7 percent margin Hispanics supported raising taxes on wealthy Americans. 

Hispanic believed Obama had a better plan for taxes by a 47-23 percent margin, while Obama lost Whites on taxes by a 32-44 percent margin. 

Hispanics supported Obama on Social Security by a 48-17 margin, while Obama lost won Whites on Social Security by a 26-40 percent margin. 

Hispanics supported Obama on Education by a 52-20 margin, while Obama lost Whites on Education with 33-39 percent margin. 

Hispanics supported Democrats on the crucial issue of Obama-Care by a massive 69-31 margin, while White opposed Obama-Care by a 39-61 margin. This is not surprising, according to Department of Health and Human Services: “Hispanics were most likely to be uninsured for at least one month during 2008 to 2009 (52.3 percent)”. Of course the most uninsured group prefer the candidate who promises to give them free health-care over the rich guy who wants to cut programs that they depend on.

I could go on, but the results are repetitive and depressing. On gun-control, the environment, energy, foreign policy, economics and every subject Hispanics were to the left of Whites and to the left of the Republican party. It is not true as Charles Krauthammer claims that Hispanics are Natural Republicans who are alienated from the Republican Party simply because of GOP opposition to Amnesty. Hispanics are Natural Democrats on every major policy issue, be it immigration or economics or even social issues. 

One important explanation for why the conservative leadership has convinced itself that Amnesty will make Hispanics gravitates towards the GOP is psychological. Following a crushing defeat against a President openly championing liberalism, Republicans elites are in the first state of grief, namely denial. The truth that America is  slowly transforming into a center-left country (due primarily to past immigration policy) is simply too painful to acknowledge. Republican refuse to accept that the political philosophy they offer is unattractive for low-income voters. 

I understand that is is painful to acknowledge that the electorate rejected your ideology. It is however foolish to convince yourself that you can make people vote for you against their own material self-interests merely by compromising on one issue (illegal immigration) or by “reaching out”. This especially if the easy path Charles Krauthammer offers involves accelerating demographic transformation, the very process which is killing the GOP. 

5. Another argument brought forward by George Bush to explain why Republicans could win the Hispanic vote was premised on Hispanic Entrepreneurs voting Republican. In fact he self-employment rate is lower among Hispanics than among Whites. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds:

“Whites continued to be more likely than Blacks or Hispanics to operate their own businesses”.

More importantly the Hispanic self-employed are mostly small one man operations, such as construction workers, plumbers and landscape architects, not rappidly growing entrepreneurial companies. Mexican immigrants are nearly 30 percent of all immigrants, but only 2 percent of founders of firms in “Innovation/Manufacturing-Related Fields”

6. Finally, it is frequently argued that the above facts that should be troubling to Republicans regarding Hispanic immigration are merely temporary. After all, it is said, nativists claimed the Irish wouldn’t integrate either, but they did. According to this theory regardless of today´s situation either American Exceptionalism or Libertarian Historical Determinism will grantee that immigration will end up benefiting classical-liberalism.

Just because we can point to one prominent historical example of immigrants integrating successfully hardly guarantees that all immigrant groups will always integrate. There are also prominent historical examples of immigrants not integrating, such as in Western Europe during the last four decades.

The world is different now than in 1850. We now have the welfare state and multiculturalism, which both aggressively work against integration and in favor of keeping tribal ethnic pride alive and well. 

Keep in mind that immigrants integrated into the US during the early 20th century after the flow immigration slowed. Stanford Economist Edward Lazear has argued that an immigrant group is less likely to integrate the larger it is and the more recently arrived the migrants of the group are. Newly arrived immigrants are cheaper substitute for immigrants already here and press down their wages. Moreover people are less likely to integrate to majority culture if they live semi-isolated in a sea of the immigrant culture.

As an empirical matter, Mexican immigrants to the United States have not integrated even after four generations. UCLA sociologists Telles and Ortiz have investigated outcomes for 4th generation Mexican-Americans. They do not converge to white averages in either income or education. More troubling, integration stops in generation 3, there are no further gains. (They also find 4th generation Mexican immigrants still tend to vote for Democrats.) 

As an aside, this is also the reason as to why Democrats would do well to temper their demographic triumphalism somewhat. Ethnic fragmentation of America is indeed making Democrats politically dominant. It is also putting virtually every US social outcome desired by Liberals further out of reach, be it in the area of
inequality, education, wages, environment, etc. If defeating conservatives is an end in itself, unskilled immigration is a good strategy for Democrats. However progressives that are in business of achieving social goals rather than merely beat their political rivals should take a moment to consider what impact unskilled immigration has on for example income equality or the viability of a generous social safety net.

The evidence is overwhelming that Hispanics will not become Republican any time soon. Giving in to Amnesty will mostly have the effect of causing further cycles of Amnesty-Illegal-Immigration-Amnesty, bringing the GOP ever closer to irrelevance.

It is worthwhile to do some crude arithmetic here. Amnesty would lead to approximately 11 million new citizens. Once they are citizen, they have the right to bring their relatives to the U.S. According to Princeton researcher Bin You On “On average, each principal immigrant would bring 2.1 family members to the United States as part of the unification process.” (though this takes some time). Let’s ignore the fact that Amnesty is virtually guaranteed to lead to further illegal immigration.

Amnesty therefore means in the ballpark of 34 million new citizens, overwhelmingly low-skill. On average sixty percent of eligible voters tend to vote. Let’s say only half this group votes. Amnesty means 17 million new voters who owe their loyalty to President Obama. 

What percentage of this voting-block can Republicans hope to get if they let President Obama become a hero and grant them Amnesty? 

Romney only got 27 of the Hispanic vote because the Cuban still vote leans Republican. Illegal immigrants are mostly Mexican or Central American, not Cuban. First generation Mexican immigrants lean more Democrat than Hispanics as a whole. Let’s be generous and say that Republicans get 30 percent of the vote of illegal immigrants and their families if they agree to Amnesty.

Obama won the 2012 election with a margin of 3 million votes. Amnesty for illegal immigrants would create a ball-park of 7 million votes net for the Democrats in the medium run, let alone the long run. The “solution” offered by Republican elites for their defeat would triple the Democratic victory margin.

6. So what are conservatives to do? Forsake hope and despair? Pack up shop and disband the GOP? Not quite yet. Romney did not, after all, lose in a landslide, even facing demographic transformation. He closed President Obama’s margin over McCain from 7.2 percent to 2.8 percent. 

The fact that Romney did far better than McCain (and only a point below Bush in 2000) is because of his rising vote-share among Whites. Regardless of what the commentary on MSNBC might claim, Romney did not run on White racism or tribalism. Nevertheless he received one of the highest voting shares among Whites.

As some commentators have pointed out, what appears to be happening is that as Whites become a smaller share of the electorate, they are naturally gravitating toward the GOP. Whites are still 72 percent of voters, enough as a base to win elections for many decades to come. One reason is that Whites are feeling more self-conscious of the fact that they are becoming a minority, as TV-news and pundits gleefully remind them on a nightly rebasis. As American Whites are transformed into merely another ethnic minority, they are coalescing electorally, as ethnic minorities tend to do.

You can compare demographic group vote shares with the nation as a whole (so if a Republican gets 50% nationally and 60% of Whites, Whites are +10R). It is a bit problematic as whites are a huge component of the total they are being compared with, but it is an illustrative exercise nonetheless. Below, I calculate this measure both for Whites and Hispanics:

1972: D+26
1976: D+25

1980: D+17
1984: D+22
1988: D+24
1992: D+18
1996: D+23
2000: D+14
2004: D+10
2008: D+15
2012: D+21

1972: R+6
1976: R+4
1980: R+6
1984: R+5
1988: R+4
1992: R+4
1996: R+6
2000: R+7
2004: R+7
2008: R+10
2012: R+12

As you can see Hispanics have leaned Democrat for decades. Romney did no worse among Hispanics compared to the national average than Reagan, Nixon, Dole or HW Bush. Bush and McCain did better, no doubt due in part to their stance on illegal immigration. Both those candidates nevertheless lost Hispancis by crushing margins. 

There is a strong correlation between the share of whites who vote Republican and how many Whites there were. While Whites are shrinking as a group, they are trending Republican.
The reason that Romney did not do even better with Whites is that he was blocked by the perception that he is a socially conservative Taliban among women/academics/Asians and that he is a greedy rich guy who doesn’t care about the middle class among working class men.

So, what to do for Republicans? For now, the Republican Party can take the most obvious step as dictated by the median voter theorem, i.e. moderate or clarify its positions on unpopular issues (Tax cuts for the rich, Abortion in cases of rape and incest, Contraception mandates, interventionist foreign policy) and gains 2-3 points across the board more from all ethnic groups. That’s enough to win for now.

If Republicans seriously want to reach out to Hispanics they must also moderate their positions on economic policy. Courting Hispanic voters with fiscal issues rather than with more immigration is strategically less insane. Amnesties gives Republicans a slightly larger share of the Hispanic vote, but at the cost of making the Hispanic vote larger and thereby further weaken the electoral position of the GOP. (it also costs White working class votes). Moderating on fiscal policy gives you more Hispanics (and more Whites, and more African Americans) without making the Democratic base larger.

Republicans should eventually support Amnesty, but now is not the right moment. Voters don’t like more illegal immigration, but they feel sorry for the guys already here. It would however be strategically and practically foolish to give Obama the chance to give Hispanics Amnesty. That will cement Democrat loyalty among Hispanics for perhaps a generation. Furthermore any concessions in the area of actual immigration enforcement gained as part of a “comprehensive” deal are unlikely to actually materialize if they are to be implemented by the Obama administration.

If the Republican Party wants to survive, they must first demand near complete end to illegal immigration as their price for Amnesty. Moreover, Republicans must slow down legal immigration of low-skill workers. This flow is nearly big as illegal immigration, and these groups of immigrants are also anti-GOP. Once the flow of unskilled (legal and illegal) immigration is manageable, the GOP can work hard for the survival of the itself and more importantly the country to integrate the Hispanics already here.

What than can Republicans offer low-income, philosophically left-leaning Hispanics that Democrats cannot? After all, the GOP might move to the left on health care and taxes, but that is hardly a unique selling point. The Democrats will always be able to outbid the Republicans in this field, even though the disadvantage can be mitigated. 

Of course, Republicans must aggressively recruit Hispanic candidates, and preferably Mexican-American rather than Cuban-American. Currently 65 percent of Hispanics in the U.S are Mexican and only 4 percent Cuban. Some Mexican American voters view Cuban-Americans as too privileged to identify with. This Time Magazine writer argues:

there is the perception among Mexican-Americans that Cubans, as a group, have not suffered in the United States the way other Latinos have.

Second Republicans should also be aggressive about stamping out all traces of ethnic intolerance in the GOP. 

Third, Republicans can emphasize law and order in crime-ridden Hispanic neighborhoods. (You can’t fix education and employment if crime remains high).  

Fourth, Republicans can make it a priority to improve education. Reforming teacher unions is part of this, but more funding should be on the table when necessary.

These things are all well and good, but likely not enough. There is however one vital deal that Republicans can offer Hispanics that Democrats cannot: Inclusion and normalcy.

Let’s not kid ourselves; Obama got 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in party by emphasizing “minority solidarity”. Liberals are now more or less openly inciting anti-majority ethnic resentment. 

The deal offered by Democrats to Hispanics is the same deal offered to African-Americans: Permanent exclusion from mainstream America as a politically protected ethnic minority. The key to the Democratic plan to make America a one-party state is that Hispanics forever remain a segregated ethnic voting block rather than a part of America. For the Democrat plan to work, Hispanics can never become part of the mainstream majority in terms of social identity or educational and economic achievement.

Conservatives can offer Hispanics a far better deal than this. They should reach out with an open hand to Hispanics and offer them to join America as full citizens, not only formally but in all regards, as the Irish and Italians did before them. 

Libertarians, neocons and liberals that are high on Ellis-Island sentimentalism seem to forget that Irish- and Italian-Americans no longer view themselves as primarily Irish or Italian. Nor have they made more Irish/Italian immigration their primary political demand. They are fully American, not just Italians/Irish/Mexicans residing in America. Isn’t that after all the American Dream? Isn’t this what they came here for? For themselves and their children to become fully American, in outcomes and values and identity?

If high-immigration policy is continued by 2050 U.S Census projects that Hispanics will become 31 percent of the population and non-Hispanic whites 45 percent. There is no place for a conservative political party in the country the U.S is slowly turning into. However as I have shown for another 10 to perhaps 15 years, there remains a narrow path for the GOP to avert political suicide. If what remains of the Republican party instead believe Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer, and Jeb Bush and the liberal media telling them that accelerated Hispanic immigration will save the GOP, they deserve the fate that awaits them.

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