This is part I of a four-part series (from my amateurish perspective) on the 2012 presidential election. I am going to write on the demographic, social and political trends that prevailed in the election. This part will focus on the increase in the Latino vote and a piss-poor showing among them by Republicans. The second part (coming tomorrow) will focus on the case of the missing white voters in this election. Sean Trende has an excellent piece on it here. Coming later this week or next will be a piece on the Midwest and how Obama ran so strongly among whites in the Midwest compared to other parts of the US. The last piece will focus on how this election showed intangibles, money and a turnout machine can win a race in the worst of conditions.
In 2008 John McCain, long considered a moderate on immigration reform only won 30% of the Hispanic vote. This year, Mitt Romney, running far to the right of McCain, in fact running so far to the right on the issue he outflanked Rick Santorum, in the primaries called for a policy of self deportation. On Tuesday night the results spoke for themselves. Mitt Romney received a paltry 27% of the Hispanic vote out of almost 10.4 million ballots cast. In swing states like CO and NV this alone was enough to doom his candidacy.
The GOP annihilation, for lack of a better term, among Hispanics has now led the GOP to start wondering how to appeal to this diverse group. Consider in FL you have primarily Cuban-American Hispanics, in the SW a mix of Central American Hispanics and in Georgia you have third and fourth generation Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. This is a diverse group to appeal to and yet somehow Democrats have succeeded at it since 2004.
Historically, and this election is no exception, Hispanics vote at a much lower rate than their white or even black counterparts. Republicans made the calculated gamble that they could win this election by turning out the white vote and winning it by unprecedented levels. They hit the second goal and badly missed the first (explanation will come in a later piece).
Republicans have long considered Hispanics a good fit for the party. Hispanics are traditionally pro family values, anti-gay marriage and abortion, and fiscally or moderately conservative. So what gives? Why can the GOP win with attractive Congressional or statewide Hispanic candidates but not win their votes in a national campaign?
This question is not easy to answer; like any electoral questions are. The GOP will be doing some serious soul-searching in the future. Many pundits and analysts have focused on how the GOP is to far right on the issue of immigration. Note above Romney’s self-deportation move in the GOP primary. Also, SB 1070 in AZ has not done the GOP any PR favors among the group. But it is important to keep in mind in 1986 when Reagan granted conditional amnesty to illegals in this country the party was shellacked among the group in 1988. Obviously this example highlights the GOP has more than a policy problem with Hispanics.
If the GOP’s issues with Hispanics nationwide runs deeper than policy issues what else explains continued GOP weakness among this group? I honestly can boil it down to three things beside policy, 1) tenor, 2) candidate quality and 3) messaging.
Obviously the GOP’s tenor on immigration issues, especially regarding illegal immigration, is harsh at best. SB 1070, Mississippi denying public education to illegals and Romney’s self deportation gambit this cycle only contributed to the GOP’s issues among this group. In fact, the tenor of the GOP on illegal immigration filters down to legal immigrants, many who sided with Democrats this election and put states like VA in the Democrats column (again). Finding a way to talk about immigration and other minority related issues in a way that is not hostile or antagonistic is crucial for the GOP.
In 2010 the GOP seemed to have found the kind of candidates that could win among Hispanics. In NV Brian Sandoval won 40% of the Hispanic vote. In NM Susanna Martinez won even more. In TX Rick Perry won 38%. Yet even as the GOP was roaring to victory in these states they were defeating the purpose by running anti-immigrant candidates such as Tom Tancredo in CO and Jan Brewer in AZ. Obviously due to the primary process in this country the GOP can only do so much to recruit and get the right candidates to run. But the more attractive candidates the GOP runs to Hispanics the better they will do among the group. In all honesty, I hate to say it, but identity politics sells. Especially among minorities at this point in time.
Messaging will prove crucial for the GOP among this group in the future. In 2004 the George Bush campaign went out of its way to message their promise of some sort of immigration reform and family values to Hispanics. This netted Bush 44% of the vote among Hispanics. Fast forward to 2008 and John McCain’s hapless campaign only created an office position to court these voters in the last month of the campaign. Romney’s campaign talked big about their minority outreach efforts but showing up at a Latino event with dyed skin and airing a few paltry radio and TV ads in heavily Hispanic areas of the country did little to alleviate his problems among the group.
The GOP does have hope to court Hispanics in the future. Many Hispanic voters are second or third generation Americans meaning they are better inundated in the culture, GOP values should appeal to them and certain candidates have proven they can win among this group. Also, the Democratic coalition with so many minority factions appears unstable. It apparently took a minority at the top of the ticket and a billion dollar campaign machine to just hold this coalition together for a mere two elections (4 years, it collapsed in 2010). Whether this is an actually stable coalition absent Obama at the top of the ticket will not be known until 2016 and maybe beyond.
Appealing to Hispanics may be a life or death situation for the party heading into the future. Obviously it should not be the sole focus of the GOP, they need to hold their white, middle class base, but it should be a major priority heading into the future.