The fact that Barack Obama thoroughly clobbered Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters in last week’s presidential election—he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Romney’s 27 percent–naturally raises the question of whether an increasingly Hispanic United States will be an increasingly Democratic one. Some insights may be found in Texas, where at least 38 percent of the population is Hispanic. Ryan Lizza, at the New Yorker, is among those taking a look at Texas’s Hispanic voters. He spent some time before the election with Ted Cruz, the Cuban-American Tea-Party phenomenon who is now the state’s senator-elect, and who argues (as Republicans often do) that many Hispanic voters would be drawn to a Republican message about, say, the value of hard work. Lizza also stopped by the office of Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, who allowed that whatever the message, Republicans need to figure this out quickly:
[Munisteri] told me that he had a slide that he wouldn’t show me, because he didn’t want Democrats to know about his calculations. He said that it depicted the percentage of the white vote that Republicans would have to attract if they continued to do as poorly as they have among Hispanics.
“By 2040, you’d have to get over a hundred per cent of the Anglo vote,” he said.
“Over a hundred per cent is not possible,” I offered.
“That’s my point!”
There’s no question that national Republicans should be feeling chastened by their poor showing among Hispanic voters (and women, and African-Americans, and Asian-Americans, and so on). Even if they could win a presidential election simply by dominating the Anglo vote, which they apparently can’t anymore, the United States is lucky to be a diverse country and both parties should appreciate that. With that said, the Hispanics = Democrats equation is somewhat too simplistic for several reasons, chief among them being that in Texas, at least, Hispanics haven’t necessarily been Democrats; that’s why Texas is a red state right now.
Have things changed in the past two years? The results of last week’s elections are inconclusive. There were no exit polls in Texas, and two polls released on the eve of the election flatly contradicted each other. According to an election eve poll (PDF) conducted by Latino Decisions and Impremedia, Hispanic voters in Texas favored Obama over Romney, 70 percent to 29 percent. The Baselice poll of likely voters in Texas, however, found just 49 percent of Hispanics supporting Obama, and 40 percent for Romney.
The Latino Decisions poll is closer to the national results; according to national exit polls, Obama won 73 percent of Hispanic voters, to Romney’s 25 percent. The Baselice poll, however, correctly predicted Romney’s overall margin of victory (16 percent), and the split it predicted among Hispanic voters actually isn’t out of line with previous election results in Texas. At the national level, on the other hand, Republicans have been losing support among Hispanic voters. That’s a predictable outcome given that even party leaders have been willing to indulge the nativist fringe, and it might have undermined the party’s standing among Hispanic voters in Texas, too.
Even if Hispanic voters in Texas went for Obama by a forty-point margin in 2012, however, previous election results in Texas suggest that although the national GOP’s demographic problem is real, it’s not necessarily insuperable. In 2010, for example, Rick Perry won re-election as governor with 38 percent of the Hispanic vote. It’s a salient example: that was only two years ago; the Tea Party movement was already ascendant; Perry had already thrown in with the Tea Party; and Perry is, in most respects, apparently more conservative than Romney.
Yet it’s not at all surprising that Perry attracted more support from Hispanic voters in 2010 than Romney did in 2012. The governor has no public record of deriding Hispanics and has, on occasion, gone to bat on behalf of common-sense responses to issues such as border security and unauthorized immigration. During his ill-fated campaign for president, for example, he pushed back when the other candidates (including Romney) took him to task for having signed the 2001 Texas DREAM Act, which made some unauthorized immigrants eligible for in-state tuition rates at Texas’s public colleges and universities.
It is, in other words, possible to conceive of a Republican party that includes conservatives but doesn’t pander to nativists. Such a party would presumably have more success with Hispanic voters than the current iteration, just as a pro-life politician who doesn’t publicly question whether all rapes are “legitimate” ones is probably going to draw more support from women voters than a pro-life politician who does. One thing that is clear from this year’s elections is that Republicans don’t need to win the Hispanic vote to win an election, even in a majority-minority state like Texas. They just need to stop losing it so aggressively.