October 18, 2007

The Myth Of The Latino Bloc?

Republicans have heard dire warnings about the impact of border-security and immigration rhetoric on the growing bloc of Latino voters. The GOP will lose the next generation of the American electorate if the party does not moderate its stance on illegal immigration, especially in the tone of the debate. The fastest-growing segment of the population will soon grow large enought to punish the Republicans and reduce them to permanent minority status.

Not so fast, writes Steve Malanga in today's Los Angeles Times. Not only has the Latino bloc been overestimated, it has not given all that much support to the GOP in any case -- and immigration is nowhere near as important to Latino voters as assumed:

Just days after the election, for instance, Dick Morris, a former pollster and advisor to President Clinton, declared that Latinos had elected Bush; they represented 12% of the electorate, Morris reasoned, and 45% of them had pulled the levers for the president, enough to be decisive.

The Latino vote for Bush was far from decisive, however, and it may be years before it plays a pivotal role in a national election. Latinos may represent about 14% of the U.S. population, but they constituted just 6% of the 2004 electorate -- 7.5 million voters out of 125 million. According to Census Bureau data, only 34% of the nation's adult Latino population registered to vote in 2004, and 28% voted. By contrast, 67% of the country's adult white, non-Latino population and 56% of its adult black population voted in 2004. Black voters outnumbered Latino voters nearly 2 to 1 in 2004.

Exit polls taken during 2004 also indicate Latino support for Bush may have been exaggerated. In different polls, Bush's share of the Latino vote ranged from a high of 44% to a low of 33%. Yet subsequent academic studies have estimated Bush's actual level of Latino support at the lower end, somewhere between 35% and 37%. Seen in this context, the "swing" of voters from Bob Dole, who garnered 21% of the Latino vote in 1996, to George W. Bush was hardly historic. In 1984, Ronald Reagan captured 37% of the Latino vote -- a performance at least equal to Bush's.

This suggests that the key to winning Latino votes may be running good candidates, not pandering. Latino voters themselves seem to agree. A 2004 Washington Post poll found that immigration was the least important issue among Latino voters, with only 3.5% placing it at the top of their concerns.

One point of criticism remains valid. The passions of the immigration debate flowed over at times into xenophobia. When discussing policy, it is always best to focus on the data and not to make assumptions about the whole based on individual anecdotes. It's a rhetorical trap set over and over again by opponents of conservatives, and the most recent example of this was the S-CHIP debate. Instead of debating the Frosts -- who qualified for the program before its expansion anyway -- we should have been debating why smokers had to subsidize middle-class families' health insurance at all. Liberals want us arguing over individual cases in order to portray conservatives as meanies, bigots, and so on.

The data Malanga uncovers opposes almost everything we've been hearing about the Latino bloc. Republicans managed to garner a little more than a third of those voters when Reagan and Bush 43 got elected and re-elected. Bob Dole only got 21%. What does that mean? Right now, we only have a ceiling of around a third of this bloc, and a floor of about a fifth. That's not a large window in which to work, and given the overall voting numbers, it's not something that should change party policy, especially on national security.

The immigration numbers seem especially intriguing. The Southwest has Hispanic families that go back centuries, and who do not especially treasure illegal immigration. Malanga notes that 78% of Arizona's Latinos oppose expanded immigration, and one can find similar sentiment in New Mexico. The warnings on immigration policy stem from an assumption that Hispanics automatically want amnesty and open borders, but at least in the Southwest, that is a false assumption.

As in the case with the African-American community, closer engagement would eliminate many of the false assumptions on both sides. Republicans need to make the argument that tighter border security and immigration policy will help protect not just national security, but also jobs and wages for American citizens and legal residents. The GOP has a shared set of values on life issues with the Hispanic community, and a shared focus on strengthening the family. If we make those arguments, we can lift both the floor and the ceiling of our share of their vote, and do so without mindless pandering.


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Comments (24)

Posted by quickjustice | October 18, 2007 9:53 AM

Before returning to New York, I lived in Miami for ten years. It's a heavily Hispanic town. (The old joke was that the average voter in Miami was a sixty-five-year-old Cuban woman who spoke no English!)

The Hispanic population in Miami is educated and diverse. The Cuban presence is gradually being diluted with many other ethnic groups from many other Central and South American countries.

Most important, there are almost no Mexicans. The Hispanic "community" is multiple communities, and they disagree on almost everything, including politics. I'd say that at least in South Florida, fears of a monolithic Hispanic voting bloc are overblown.

More to the point, the Hispanic communities in South Florida are educated, productive, legal, and good citizens. Stereotypes don't work well in evaluating these voting blocs, although the Cuban-American community mostly hates Castro and Communism.

Posted by Charlie | October 18, 2007 10:06 AM

These periodic spasms of nativism are what keep me calling myself a libertarian rather than a Republican.

Use some common sense... 12 million illegals causing an estimated few hundred dollar drain to few hundred dollar boost per head to our economy, and Repubs are proposing to "fix" the problem at a cost of a few thousand dollars per.

Want to fix the problem? Investment in factories in Monterrey, Chihuahua, Hermosillo and Ensenada should do the trick nicely *and* return a profit.

Posted by newton | October 18, 2007 10:09 AM

Charlie: there are heavily-invested American factories in those places - maquiladoras. There are plenty of well-educated people over there.

The ones who cross the border are, mostly, not that educated.

Posted by Ralph | October 18, 2007 10:15 AM


One thing thst I've seen almost all pundits and commentator ignore when discussing the "immigration debate" is that a significant portion of the opposition to the "McCain/Kennedy" Bill was not based on the specifics of the bill, but rather on the unseemly haste with which its proponents tried to ram it through the Senate.

IF the bill had so many commendable concepts, why couldn't it be presented to the public in time for a rational discussion?

Many of us are past the point of accepting "trust me, I'm from the government" as an approach to politics.

I, and most of my friends, have no basic problem with some form of "amnesty," so longs as we are shown that it's done in a form that allows contributing members of society to become illegal, while not encouraging the deadbeats byk allowing them to become citizens. Anyone who thinks that both types of people are not part of the illegal population is truly out of touch with reality. Any solution will involve some form of compromise, but that compromise is NOT best achieved in the backrooms of the Senate away from public scrutiny.

To raise is point is NOT being xenophobic. It's a matter of dealing with reality.

Thanks for your always thought provoking blog.

Posted by Charlie | October 18, 2007 10:20 AM

Thanks, Newton, I'm familiar. I'm talking about a larger scale than that.

Living in Texas, I've used migrant laborers several times. Uneducated, yes, but always upstanding, hard working, cheerful and usually clever at figuring out how to tackle problems. They'd make superior employees.

And they are forthright that they are here for the money. Here they feel isolated from both family and culture.

So, why not take the many billions we plan to sink into fences and bureaucracy and instead provide ways to make a good living in their own country and make a return ourselves?

Posted by RBMN | October 18, 2007 10:26 AM

About ten years from now, for millions of American citizens (and new voters) that giant illegal immigrant influx from the 1990's will have a different name--like, Mom, Dad, Uncle Pepe, Aunt Juanita, cousin Jose....

Hard to get around that.

Posted by MarkT | October 18, 2007 10:28 AM

> it is always best to focus on the data and not to
> make assumptions about the whole based on
> individual anecdotes.

Arguing by anecdote is an easy trap to fall into - it happens here just like it does everywhere in the world. It's great to stay aware of it and try to resist!

Posted by Ken Price | October 18, 2007 10:42 AM


I lived in Latin America for 40+ years and my wife was born in Mexico (and is now a U.S. citizen). She's more opposed to "illegal" immigration than anyone I know, and I have to believe that she represents the thinking of the majority of legal immigrants. All the "legals" jumped through the "hoops" that legal immigration to the USA require, and deeply resent those that jump the line to get into the USA "on the cheap". Moreover, all too many of the illegals are not the sort of people who would be allowed into the USA if they had to comply with existing regulations.

The USA is one of the last countries that don't require some form of national ID card. A drivers license is no substitute, as the current circus in New York demonstrates. The Social Security card is little more than a joke, with no security features and no "check-sum" on the number sequence.

Putting a wall along the border is no answer. All that does is make the illegals move to areas without a wall. Remember, Mexicans do not require a visa to enter Canada, and we have a 4000+ mile border with that country. Take a non-stop flight from Mexico City to Toronto and walk South! Rather than spend billions on a wall that won't work, make certain that applicants for jobs have legal authorization to work in the USA.

As a start, make payments for labor to those not authorized to work in the USA a non-deductible expense for the IRS. that will make all employers properly check that workers are authorized.

Make the drivers licenses from any state that issues them to illegal immigrants invalid for ID for boarding an aircraft. That will make New York reconsider issuing licenses to illegals, or put airports in New York suffer. Make those same licenses invalid for driving in another state, and see how long it takes for New York to change policy.

If we have the will, there is a way. Problem is, we don't have the will!

Posted by LarryD | October 18, 2007 10:47 AM

"So, why not take the many billions we plan to sink into fences and bureaucracy and instead provide ways to make a good living in their own country and make a return ourselves?"

Because the Mexican Government is a corrupt kleptocracy that is too greedy to let common folk have economic opportunity, and is exporting the resultant restive population to us. They also may seriously believe that Mexico can retake California, Texas, et al via a non-military invasion.

And that sort of thing has happened before, read up on the history of Hawaii some time.

The fastest way go turn Mexico into an economically attractive country is to replace the Mexican Government by force. I'm not in favor of the idea, and I don't think you are either.

So, enforce the laws, especially the ones that discourage illegal aliens working, then the problem will indeed go away. I don't have a problem with a genuine guest worker program, that means the workers go home after a period of some months. But our government is going to have to build up some level of trust before I'll believe any new guest worker program is genuine.

Posted by coldwarrior415 | October 18, 2007 10:59 AM

When the debate has been framed into two blocs...anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant, the larger problem, illegal immigration gets lost in the shuffle.

Those few who are anti-immigrant are very few in number. Immigration built this nation. From our earliest days as a nation we imposed various controls over immigration, some sensible and some far less so. But, today, we have no sensible approach to immigration -- legal or illegal. And Hispanics, Mexicans and Central Americans have become the poster child for both factions.

The protracted debate on immigration, clouded throughout by the conflation of legal and illegal immigration in that debate, has not moved us toward solution.

This is the heart of the illegals problem.

As for the Hispanic vote...there is NO Hispanic vote. The Hispanic Community is widely diverse, and there is an almost equal distribution of Left and Right wihin that Community. Trying to stereotype the vote simply prolongs the problems.

Posted by John | October 18, 2007 12:40 PM

There has been a lot of reliance on faulty exit poll data to show that the GOP did well among hispanics in 2004, when in fact there had been no real change from previous cycles. Recently there have been blatant propaganda campaigns trying to show that opposing illegal immigration will hurt the GOP. All completely false.

The easiest way to understand the politics of illegal immigration is to stick to the basics. Assume voters are rational. First, illegals can't vote. Second, legal workers have to compete with illegals for jobs and thus its in their self-interest to restrict illegal immigration. Third, citizens also face competition in the labor market, and only a very small number benefit at the margin from illegal immigration (agribusiness, etc.). So they oppose illegal immigration.

Those who support illegal immigration can be grouped into two camps. The first and primary motivation is to flood the country with poor workers and thus lay the groundwork for leftist government in coming decades. That motivates the Democratic Party entirely. Secondarily, various voters have motivations... some hispanic Americans value their race above the interests of their country and they are joined by irrational left-wing Americans of other stripes. Then there are 'conservatives' who like to make a few bucks by imposing huge externalities on the American population (though in their case it is a net benefit- and for 99% of people it is a net loss).

Now, the supporters of illegal immigration have to hide their reasons because they are facially illegitimate. So there is talk of "xenophobia" and other such nonsense. But the actual 'debate' is simple- the interests of the United States are 100% against illegal immigration without any legitimate counter-argument. The interests of certain groups within the US, however, are contrary to the interests of the nation at large (which is also the case insofar as various Democrats want the US to lose in Iraq for their own gain).

Posted by rjschwarz | October 18, 2007 1:44 PM

Carlos Mencia had a joke, that when he visited Florida he was Cuban, when he visited NY he was Puerto Rican, and when he visted the Southwest he was Mexican. He's actually Honduran.

The point being there is no one block. I'd say the Cubans lean Republican and the Puerto Ricans lean Democrat and the folks in the Southwest, I just don't know if they lean as a group in any direction.

Posted by BB | October 18, 2007 3:00 PM

"Trying to stereotype the vote simply prolongs the problems."

-And politicians trying to buy votes rather than engage in serious problem solving makes worse problems. Republicans should not be chasing ethnic voting blocs, especially ficticious ones. Why should conservatives contribute to the Balkanization of America?

Posted by Terrye | October 18, 2007 3:18 PM

I don't think that all Latinos see any issue the same way. My concern throughout the socalled immigration debate was that the rhetoric of some people in the debate would needlessly alienate hispanics who might very well otherwise agree with Republicans on other issues.

I am not saying Republicans need to pander to anyone, but at the same time they do not need to go out of their way to run them off either.

There are ways to make your point without that.

Posted by MarkD | October 18, 2007 3:44 PM

Simpson-Mazolli already fixed this problem. Amnesty once, remember?

I have to disagree with Ken Price on one thing. The people who are walking across the border are not going to be flying to Toronto and walking South. They don't have the money to fly to Toronto. They would need to satisfy Canadian customs and immigration at the airport. The Great Lakes are in the way and the border is not so easy to cross at the bridges.

Before 9/11 I actually got this from an overzealous US Customs official when coming back from a weekend in Toronto: The usual where were you born? Me - Rochester. Mrs D. - Hiroshima. Got your passport? Yes. (She's a US Citizen now.) Can you prove these are your children? (Ages 7, 5, and 1 at the time) Well, no... Now I've been going back and forth between the US and Canada all my life and nobody, before this, had ever asked anything about ID for a child. Then the guy said something to the effect that they ought to have ID and let us go. I guess the odds of us having 3 kidnapped but happy Amerasian kids in the back of our VW were small. Anyway, next trip we brought their passports and were never asked...

Congress brought this immigration mess on themselves. Prove they are serious about enforcing the border. Then or later, fix legal immigration. Higher quotas, guest workers, whatever it takes is OK. Ignoring the law is not OK and that is probably a large part of the disapproval rating for the government.

Posted by Pandora | October 18, 2007 4:25 PM

First, they're not illegal 'immigrants'; they're foreign nationals in this country illegally, i.e. illegals aliens.

Second, this demonstration of the NON-bloc that has been dubbed 'hispanic' is another misnomer; these are foreign nationals here illegally from many countries. Where exactly is Hispania?

Third, the opposition to Mexican foreign nationals, specifically, is/was not "xenophobic"; it's a common-sense reaction to what IS a large bloc of illegal aliens in numbers large enough to be a detrimental force to our tax-base, our culture, our laws, and our language. We have an American identity and it isn't Mexican; however if our mutual border was one with Italy or Somalia, the same concerns would hold and none of them are "xenophobic".

Fourth, lies were told and exaggerations made about said 'hispanic bloc'; many conservatives didn't and don't buy it and we were right.

Posted by burt | October 18, 2007 8:20 PM

The three most prominent law enforcement officers who "Willey" Sutton's office put in prison all have Hispanic names. The one who is a sheriff's deputy just got a hero's welcome in his small town (1100 people) in Texas on getting out of federal prison. I believe the town is largely Hispanic as well.

"First, illegals can't vote." INCORRECT. ILLEGALS MAY NOT VOTE. They do vote all the time. Some don't restrict themselves to voting only once per election.

Posted by flenser | October 18, 2007 10:39 PM

The passions of the immigration debate flowed over at times into xenophobia.

The most outrageous language I heard during the immigration "debate" (actualy a food fight) came not from the Democrats or the "nativist" Republicans, but from the liberal wing of the GOP, who spoke of their fellow republicans in the sort of terms which the Democrats usually employ.

These people get pretty sore if you refuse to endorse their lawlesssness.

Posted by flenser | October 18, 2007 10:46 PM

As for the Hispanic vote...there is NO Hispanic vote. The Hispanic Community is widely diverse, and there is an almost equal distribution of Left and Right wihin that Community.

Simply untrue. Most "Hispanics" who in are America are Mexican. And to the extent that there are differences, the effect of living in America is to eliminate them and forge a new "Hispanic" identity bloc.

And Hispanics have been giving Democats 70-80% of their votes forever. Not surprising, as they are a very low income group. Flooding the country with millions more of them can only have one result, and its the end of the GOP. At least as any sort of small government party. Maybe it can become another socialist-lite party, which seems to be what its current leaders want.

Posted by flenser | October 18, 2007 10:49 PM

I don't have a problem with a genuine guest worker program, that means the workers go home after a period of some months.

We already have such a program. The employers won't use it. It's easier and cheaper for them to brake the law.

Posted by flenser | October 18, 2007 10:52 PM

My concern throughout the socalled immigration debate was that the rhetoric of some people in the debate would needlessly alienate hispanics who might very well otherwise agree with Republicans on other issues.

My concern throughout the socalled immigration debate was that the rhetoric of some people in the debate would needlessly alienate non-hispanics who might very well otherwise agree with Republicans on other issues.

And there are a heck of a lot more of these than of Hispanics.

Posted by Don Miguel | October 19, 2007 5:14 AM

"Where exactly is Hispania?"

It's the Iberian Peninsula -- Spain, Andorra and Portugal.

Posted by Jose | October 19, 2007 9:54 AM

"Liberals want us arguing over individual cases in order to portray conservatives as meanies, bigots, and so on."

I've seen a log of blog posts from conservatives while using Digg that fall under the tags racist, mean spirited and small minded on the subject of SCHIP and Immigration. I can only assume that the authors were acting under their own free will when posting such material.

Perhaps Liberals put them up to it using sophisticated mind control techniques but I doubt it.

Posted by BoWowBoy | October 19, 2007 1:43 PM

From A Good American:

I am Hispanic. I am an American. I am a Minuteman. These terms are not contradictory.

By Al Garza
National Executive Director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps

During my youth, I served this country proudly in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, along with some great Americans. I now have that opportunity once again to serve my country with other great Americans, through my role with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. We are a volunteer organization filled with patriots who stand watch on our nation’s borders in support of the brave men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol.

We are motivated by the rule of law and the need to secure the borders of the United States for the sake of our children and our grandchildren. Like our Founding Fathers, we are willing to sacrifice our lives and fortunes “in order to form a more perfect union,” even when we are discouraged by the actions of our elected leaders in Washington, who often forget that they “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the Governed…”

Minuteman Civil Defense Corps volunteers do not engage in hate speech, bigotry, violence, vigilantism or launch unjust personal attacks against law-abiding citizens. In fact, we are commissioned to witness to the injustice of the “we hate America crowd” led by the National Council of LaRaza who have exposed their true motives when they threaten Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser for refusing to fire Frances Semler from her appointed post on the Park Board without cause; an action that would result in most private employers receiving an expensive lesson in employment law.

I urge the citizens of Kansas City to question the actions of the National Council of LaRaza, a group which claims to stand for civil rights, but extorts your Mayor with threats of defamation and boycott if their demands are not met—demands that a grandmotherly civic leader be terminated for her affiliation with a patriotic organization. I find their actions demeaning to all Hispanic Americans, and undermining of our civil liberty and patriotism.

After all, can any organization that encourages people to violate our laws truly claim to love America? Can you truly love America if one of your stated goals is to violently reclaim U.S. soil in the name of Mexico through a movement known as Reconquista?

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