I have been reflecting on the unrealized but ever-expanding influence that Hispanics will have on our entire electoral process. The Economist recently published an article called “Throwing votes away.” It criticizes the Republican Party for losing steam with Hispanic voters since leaders such as George W. Bush made significant inroads with this group. According to CNN’s basic exit poll for the 2004 election, Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote against John Kerry. Today, Mitt Romney can expect only about 20%. I think this problem goes beyond one party – both parties have basically thrown in the towel with Hispanics, ignoring the clout that this group already has. 30 years ago, Hispanics made up about 7% of the population. Today it’s 16%, and in 2050, it’ll be up to 30% (source: Census Bureau, and Pew Hispanic Center for projections). Hispanic voting enthusiasm lags. In 2010, Hispanics represented only about 8% of registered voters, and only 5% of those who actually voted. Hispanics are disillusioned, though perhaps a bit less so than before the plan to allow younger illegal immigrants to apply for residency that the Obama Administration announced in July. I believe that a true path to citizenship for illegals is a prerequisite to fully engaging Hispanics into the political process. It’s quite politically tempting to take the “kick ‘em out line.” However, even if you believe this philosophy is right, I doubt that it’s feasible.
I think Hispanic voting power will shape the voting future of numerous states, and that the political parties just haven’t reached out on the level they should. The Economist cites New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who gave a rousing speech at the Republican Convention urging other Latinos to join her party. Despite Ms. Martinez’ leanings, Hispanic voting tends to boost Democrats. New Mexico is 47% Hispanic, and a safe Obama state. Florida (23% Hispanic) has an older anti-Castro Cuban community that is reliably Republican. However, the generation coming of age is not. Out West, Hispanics are expected to cut for Obama in Colorado and Nevada. The melting pot to watch in the future is Texas, which is 38% Hispanic. While the Texas GOP has successfully integrated Hispanic members, more immigrant bashing by the national party won’t help. To get an idea of how supremely important the rhetoric on immigration is, see those poll numbers showing the decline in Hispanic support from Bush to Romney.
The overall pitch both parties make to Hispanics is convoluted, leaving immigration rhetoric as the only clear message representing either party. Republicans praise hard work and family values, themes which resonate with Hispanics, but then scorn illegal immigrants. Democrats largely avoid immigrant bashing, and have the advantage that Hispanics tend to like activist government. However, President Obama has deported illegals in huge numbers, and failed to advance national immigration legislation. The parties will need to find a narrative that focuses on better integrating the Hispanic population, legal and illegal. This should start with citizenship, and as The Economist suggests, with education. While US-based Hispanics are a diverse group (60% are Mexican), and can’t be judged altogether, this tends to be a key reason they bring in families in the first place. Between July 2010 and July 2011, Hispanic babies made up about 26% of American births, compared with 17% in the year 1995. 38% of Hispanics in the US are under 19, compared to 23% of non-Hispanic whites (source: Census Bureau).
A larger effort to work with Hispanics by whatever party has power could unlock a huge new segment of voters, and this may be what scares the parties. Hispanics are our largest minority group with 52 million citizens. According to Nielsen, the combined consumer buying power of Hispanics in the US would exceed $1 trillion, and put this group into the list of G20 economies. Between 2000 and 2010, Hispanics accounted for 56% of American population growth. It’s a shame that, despite this trend, the number of registered Hispanic voters actually declined in Texas between 2008 and 2010.There is a communication and connection problem. Nielsen also claims that many Hispanic families in the US, even those who know English, sometimes prefer to speak in Spanish and watch television in Spanish. Political parties don’t understand this, and what they say in English doesn’t come across well either.
 “State of the Hispanic Consumer: The Hispanic Market Imperative.” Nielsen, Quarter 2, 2012.