The big discussion after the election has been the seemingly sudden realization by the Republican party that they need to do something about the fact that they are losing the minority vote, especially those of Latinos, big time. What is really shocking is that they did not realize this sooner, given that all the signs were there for some time.
Long before the election, I started paying attention to those analysts in the Latino community who said that the Republicans were making a bad miscalculation with respect to the Hispanic voters, by alienating with their nativist rhetoric a group that could easily be their natural allies, since they are generally more religious, largely Catholic, and have quite conservative social values.
Latino Decisions, an authoritative site for all things Latino, said on October 23, 2012 that some pollsters were badly missing the impact of the Latino vote. It pointed out that since 1998, mainstream pollsters had “failed to account for Latinos for three primary reasons: 1) their sample sizes of Latinos were far too small; 2) their Latinos samples were not representative of the Latino population within the state; and 3) they were not interviewing Latinos in Spanish at the correct proportions.”
Their own poll, taken just before the election, predicted that Obama would get a record 73% of the Latino vote and concluded that “With such a heavy share of Latino voters supporting Mr. Obama, if voter turnout among Latinos is high on Tuesday, and if the latest poll numbers hold through the election, Latinos could potentially help decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election by delivering Obama wins in the key swing states of Virginia and Florida.” The only subgroups of Latinos where Romney was getting some traction was with Cubans and born-again Christians, a relatively small subset of the Latino community.
The Latino analysts warned that this voting bloc is not yet very vocal but could swing key states to the Democrats, pointing to Harry Reid’s win for his US senate seat in Nevada as an indicator of this hidden strength. And sure enough, those predictions turned out to be correct.
Latinos went to Obama in record numbers, 71 percent to Romney’s 29 percent, down sharply from the 44 percent George W. Bush won in 2000. Obama also carried 93 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Asians. In 1980 whites cast about 90 percent of all votes; this year they cast 72 percent, and that number falls an average of 2 percentage points every four years.
Exit polling showed that the Latino vote was crucial.
According to Segura, the Latino vote provided Obama with 5.4 percent of his margin over Romney, well more than his overall lead in the popular vote. Had Romney managed even 35 percent of the Latino vote, he said, the results may have flipped nationally.
The effect was at least as dramatic in swing states, most notably in Colorado, which Obama won on Tuesday. There Latinos went for the president by an astounding 87-10 margin, an edge not far from the near-monolithic support he received from African American voters. In Ohio, with a smaller but still significant Latino population, Obama won by an 82-17 margin.
The disaffection with Republicans was not just because of their hardline stance on immigration but also because of their opposition to the health care reforms and the fight they waged over Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. The latter was one of the most stupid things that the Republicans did. Sotomayor overcame a very hard childhood and there is no doubt that the Latino community was proud of her overcoming those hardships by excelling academically to become the first Hispanic person to reach the highest judicial level in the US. To then see her portrayed by Republicans during the confirmation process as an incompetent and undeserving beneficiary of special privileges must have been galling, telling them that the Republican party finds it hard to conceive of Latinos as accomplished people in their own right.
As everyone realizes, the size of the Latino and other minority vote is only getting bigger. As DeWayne Wickham wrote just before the election:
The Census Bureau has reported that Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities now account for 50.4% of children born in the U.S. By the middle of this century, minorities are projected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites. But long before then, this nation’s changing demographics will alter the political landscape.
Blacks and Hispanics constitute more than one-quarter of the population in three battleground states — Florida (39.4%), Colorado (25.2%) and North Carolina (30.6%). Soon, the growth of minorities in these states will make them more likely to end up in the Democratic column.
Texas, a state with the second largest number of Electoral College votes, has been in the Republican column in every presidential election since 1980. But Hispanics and blacks are now 50.3% of the population, and by 2020 the population shift there will probably make it a good bet to go Democratic in presidential contests.
If Republicans don’t do something soon to regain the Latino vote, Texas may well become a swing state in the near future and Florida could go reliably Democratic as its older anti-Castro Cuban population, now reliably Republican, dies off.
Kathleen Geier argues that the racist messages, both overt and coded, that have been part of the Republican brand is a likely cause of this disaffection.
[T]here is good reason to believe that Latino voters’ alienation from the G.O.P. goes deeper than their dislike of the G.O.P.’s positions on immigration and the economy. Republican policies such as Arizona’s infamous show-me-your-papers law and the ban, also courtesy of Arizona, on Mexican-American studies classes have a very obvious, and very nasty, racist intent and impact. In addition, the racist treatment Republicans meted out to historic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will not soon be forgotten by Latinos. Latinos have also seen the nonstop parade of racism Republicans have directed against Barack Obama over the past four years, and surely they know that the white Republicans who judge Obama by his skin color are likely to feel similarly about Latinos. Republican racism may be a key reason why Latinos report they were quite enthusiastic about voting this time around, even more so than in 2008.
And let us not forget the many attacks by prominent Republicans on Obama’s legitimacy to be president, which were widely perceived as being racist by suggesting that a non-white person was not entitled to hold the office of the presidency.
Another sign of the negative effect of this ugly nativist rhetoric was the surprising result of Asian-Americans. Although their numbers are small (about 3% of the electorate), they are the nation’s highest earning ethnicity, even greater than whites. Since Romney won among voters earning over $100,000, you would expect that he would carry this group. But they voted for Obama by a whopping 73-26%.
Another interesting divide that requires closer analysis is that Obama won handily 62-36% in cities over 50,000, ran roughly equal with Romney in the suburbs, and lost badly 39-59% in small cities and rural communities. Since the long-term trend globally is for people to migrate from rural areas to the cities, it will be interesting to see longitudinal studies of the possible effects of this change in population distribution. Do such internal migrants change the culture of the cities to more reflect the values of the places they left behind or do cities change the culture of the migrants, especially those of their children? Since modernity is a powerful driver of attitudes and since cities are the incubators of modernity, I suspect that the latter is true.
What will be interesting to see is whether the level of nativist rhetoric will get tamped down as a result of the last election. I suspect not in the near future. It takes a while for reality to sink it and for hardened attitudes to change.