Recently Steve Schmidt, a well-known GOP strategist who was John McCain’s 2008 presidential-campaign manager, said that Republicans need to capture at least 40 percent of the national Hispanic vote if the GOP is ever going to win back the White House.
Is the current political environment making it even more difficult for the GOP to achieve that 40 percent benchmark in 2016?
For example, exploding in the headlines is the Mexican-border situation, with thousands of Central American children streaming into our nation. Now attention is about to shift to Washington, where a congressional battle is brewing over the $3.7 billion funding request by President Obama to deal with this heartbreaking and polarizing immigration crisis.
Will sound bites by Republicans in Congress further alienate Hispanic voters as this crisis reaches a boiling point?
Then there is the House Republicans’ failure to take action on the landmark Senate immigration-reform bill, which passed on June 27, 2013, by a 68–32 margin, including votes from 14 Republican senators. At the time of its passage, the bill was hailed by Politico as “the most monumental overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in a generation.”
Does the House Republicans’ inaction on the Senate’s immigration bill further diminish the GOP’s goal of attracting 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in the next presidential election?
My answer is a cynical one, with a quote from Hillary Clinton: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
The point is that Republicans have never won the Hispanic vote in recent presidential elections. This was true even after President Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Do Hispanics reject Republicans because the GOP generally stands for securing the borders, less government, budget cuts, lower taxes, and more self-reliance? If so, how will the GOP ever again win the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote needed to win back the White House?
To provide some clarity to that question, let’s examine some facts and look at history.
A few decades ago, losing the Hispanic vote was inconsequential to Republicans because Hispanic numbers were small and overshadowed by white voters. But now the white vote is shrinking, and the Hispanic vote comprised 10 percent of the 2012 electorate, up from 8 percent in 2004. What was once considered ethnic bloc-voting behavior in a handful of states is now tilting the entire country toward electing Democratic presidents.
Here is some data contributing to that tilt. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanic Americans represent 17 percent of the population. In 2060 that number will increase to 31 percent, or about 130 million. Due to this population growth, the number of Hispanic Americans who vote Republican must increase proportionally in every future presidential election if the same 40 percent benchmark is to be achieved.
That goal is highly improbable given the historical data from a Pew Research Center study titled “Latino Voters in the 2012 Election.” Shown below is the percentage of Hispanic/Latino votes cast in all presidential elections from 1980 to 2012. Also included is data from NBC News documenting declining trends in the white vote.
1980 Hispanic vote: Jimmy Carter 56 percent, Ronald Reagan 35 percent
White vote: 88 percent of electorate
1984 Hispanic vote: Walter Mondale, 61 percent, Ronald Reagan 37 percent
White vote: 86 percent of electorate
1988 Hispanic vote: Michael Dukakis 69 percent, George H. W. Bush 30 percent
White vote: 85 percent of electorate
1992 Hispanic vote: Bill Clinton 61 percent, George H. W. Bush 25 percent
White vote: 87 percent of electorate
1996 Hispanic vote: Bill Clinton 72 percent, Bob Dole 21 percent
White vote: 83 percent of electorate
2000 Hispanic vote: Al Gore 62 percent, George W. Bush 35 percent
White vote: 81 percent of electorate
2004 Hispanic vote: John Kerry 58 percent, George W. Bush 40 percent
White vote: 77 percent of electorate
2008 Hispanic vote: Barack Obama 67 percent, John McCain 31 percent
White vote: 74 percent of electorate
2012 Hispanic vote: Barack Obama 71 percent, Mitt Romney 27 percent
White vote: 72 percent of electorate
George W. Bush in 2004 was the last Republican to be elected president, and it was no coincidence that he won a close election with 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. In fact, that is how 40 percent became the GOP’s Hispanic-vote benchmark.
What do these historical trends mean for Republican presidential prospects in 2016? Most likely, Republicans will not win back the White House in 2016 unless there is a radical course correction within the party resulting in a major reversal in Hispanic/Latino voting trends well established since 1980.
Now consider this new demographic wave sweeping across our nation. Younger Hispanics are fast becoming an empowered voting bloc, with 50,000 teenagers turning 18 every month for the next two decades. There is no doubt that they will transform America, its policies, and its presidential politics.
Thus, unless the Republican party has a plan to woo younger Hispanic voters, the GOP faces the very real possibility that George W. Bush will be our nation’s last Republican president.
To end on a more positive note, it was President Ronald Reagan during his 1984 reelection campaign who famously said, “Hispanics are already Republican, they just don’t know it.” If Reagan was correct, the Republican party must prove to young Hispanic voters that their future will be brighter if they embrace Republican principles.