Why the Right Lost Latinos—It’s Not Because of Immigration

Commentary about business and finance.
Nov. 7 2012 2:03 PM

The GOP’s Hispanic Nightmare

Republicans’ minority outreach problems go way, way beyond immigration.

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Polling suggests that the Latino problem for the GOP is deeper than immigration. John McCain got a scant 31 percent of the Latino vote despite a long record of pro-immigration policies. The best evidence available on Hispanic public opinion, a big election even poll from Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia, makes it clear that this is just a fairly liberal voting block. Just 12 percent of Latinos support a cuts-only approach to deficit reduction, and only 25 percent want to repeal Obamacare. Only 31 percent of Hispanics say they’d be more likely to vote for a Republican who supports the DREAM Act. This isn’t to say Latinos aren’t eager to see immigration reform, it’s just that the lion’s share have bigger reasons for rejecting the GOP.

Indeed, perhaps the most telling exit poll result about Hispanics is the almost identical thumping Romney took with Asian and Jewish voters, and even more so with black voters. ... Gerald Ford got 17 percent of the black vote while losing overall, while Romney won less than 10 percent. As Tom Scocca wrote last week, all kinds of people vote Democratic, and it’s the Republicans who rely on a narrow ethnic niche to win. The real issue isn’t Democrats courting minority “special interests” (indeed, as an economic matter Latin American immigration is good for everyone except Americans who primarily speak Spanish), it’s Republicans who use targeted outreach to help boost their share of the white vote despite a generally unpersuasive message. Viewed in that light, the anti-Sotomayor demagoguery becomes far more comprehensible. Far from an unforced error, it’s part of a reasonably effective strategy to ensure the loyalty of white voters without altering an economic agenda that’s relentlessly biased toward the rich.

This is genuinely too bad. There are some smart ideas in the Republican Party platform and bad ideas in the Democratic one. There are plenty of realms—ranging from occupational licensing and anti-density zoning, to discrimination against mobile homes, crackdowns on food trucks, and strangling of taxi innovators—in which America could benefit from a little more free-market thinking. But these are rarely points of emphasis in Republican campaigns. And while I’ll even say the GOP is right to want to preserve regressive tax breaks for investment income, clearly a policy agenda composed primarily of tax cuts for the top 2 percent or 3 percent of the income distribution doesn’t have much to offer the broad mass of people.

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Latinos aren’t into that agenda for roughly the same reason that Asians and African-Americans aren’t—absent the frisson of worry about the “white establishment” being forced into minority status—it’s just not very compelling. To do better, Republicans don’t need a different immigration policy or better Hispanic outreach strategy, they need an overall policy that’s more compelling to the middle class and will help them do better with voters of all kinds. In fact, endorsing immigration reform now might make things worse for them, by enlarging an electorate that’s fundamentally hostile to their worldview.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.