The increasing numbers of Hispanic and other minorities in the US means that their votes are crucial to winning elections and so winning over this demographic would seem to be a natural goal of all political parties. But doing so has been problematic for the Republican party.
As Chris Cillizza shows in a series of charts, the percentage of white voters has dropped from about 88% in 1980 to about 72% in 2012, but the dependence of the GOP on non-white voters was just 11% in 2012. This is a slight improvement from 4% in 1980 but not enough to overcome the overall drop in white voters. And the number of young Hispanics who are reaching voting age is soaring. In recent history, George W. Bush has been the most successful in winning Hispanic votes, getting 44% of them in 2004 but John McCain got only 31% in 2008 and Mitt Romney got 27% in 2012.
The party’s efforts to reverse this trend have, to put it mildly, been contradictory and chaotic. The GOP seems to fear that enabling more Hispanics to become citizens means increasing the voter base of the Democratic party. That is a reasonable fear. But as Jorge Ramos, host of popular programs on the Spanish language channel Univision points out, most of the undocumented immigrants are not that interested in gaining citizenship (at least in the short term) and if the parties adopt a platform that enables these people to work and not fear deportation, they could better appeal for the support of the people who are already citizens while not increasing the numbers of new voters.
[W]hen you talk – and I do that every single day – when you talk to undocumented immigrants, what they tell you, what they tell me, is that the most important thing for them is to be able to be in this country legally, to work in this country, to go back to their country of origin if they have to, to visit their family, their parents, and that citizenship, it is – at least right now – not the most important thing.
In order to try and improve their fortunes, last year a Hispanic Republican group sent out a list of “Dos and Don’ts of Immigration Reform” to all Republican congresspersons when they are talking about the hot-button issue of immigration reform. Here’s one example:
“When engaging in conversation or doing an interview on immigration reform:
Do acknowledge that ‘Our current immigration system is broken and we need to fix it’
Don’t begin with ‘We are against amnesty’
Note: Most everyone is against amnesty and this is interpreted as being against any reform.
But it does not seem to have had much effect because the Republican party’s base has long ago been weaned away from nuance and been raised on a steady combative dualistic rhetoric of “You are for us or against us”. Rather than thread this kind of rhetorical needle and take a more subtle approach to this problem, where the issue of citizenship is separated from other issues concerning immigrants, they have waged an all-out war against any talk of immigration reform using racist code words that are alienating not only Hispanic voters but minorities in general.
Part of the problem is that the way local congressional districts are set up results in most GOP districts having very few Hispanics and so members of the House of Representatives and those who aspire to be in it have little incentive to support policies that would appeal to that group. They seem to think that they can get much more mileage out of appealing to the xenophobic elements of their white base of voters. They do not fear a Hispanic-aided Democratic challenge, they fear a challenge from someone more xenophobic than them. So what works for Republicans in House races hurts them in statewide races for the Senate and the presidency.
Stephen Colbert shows us that with GOP spokespersons like congressman Stephen King of Iowa, you can see why the party’s outreach to the Hispanic community is going to be less than a massive success.
(This clip aired on July 25, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)
The Daily Show also has its take on GOP on Hispanic outreach efforts that shows the extent of the problem.
(These clips aired on January 30, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)