Key to the Latino Vote?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on April 16, 2012

A new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center has found that Latinos are more politically liberal than other Americans. This survey says 30 percent of Latinos report holding liberal or very liberal political views. That contrasts with just 21 percent of other Americans who have the same views.

Given four-plus decades of vastly heavier immigration, predominantly from Latin America, another statistic shouldn't be very surprising, but should cause concern. Hispanic immigrants arrive more left-wing than the general U.S. public and then seem to assimilate into the liberal politics of U.S.-born Latino subculture. That is, a left-wing ethnic bloc may become even more liberal in the second, third, or later generations. Pew's poll cites 27 percent of Latino immigrants as liberal and 34 percent of U.S.-born Latinos as liberal.

There also appears to be a secularization with Latinos. Pew reports that 69 percent of immigrant Latinos say religion is important in their lives, compared with only 49 percent of U.S.-born Latinos. Fifty-eight percent of the American public regards religion as important in their lives.

The poll finds Latinos somewhat more pro-life on abortion (51 percent vs. 41 percent of the general public), but about the same as other Americans in their support of gay marriage (59 percent vs. 58 percent).

Counterproductive in a nation where mutual trust is the coin of the realm, more Latinos distrust people (86 percent) in contrast with 61 percent among the general public. And another setback to assimilation and Americanization, 95 percent of Latinos consider it important that future generations of that ethnicity speak Spanish.

Where does this leave America politically? Constant mass immigration puts the parties in different positions. Democrats can appeal to immigrant voters, who already are inclined toward their platform, on big-government, welfare-state policies. Republicans must swim against the tide to win votes from a sliver of a voting bloc that might buy its more individual liberty, limited government-oriented platform.

The Republican establishment has sought to grow the GOP share of the Latino vote like knights seeking the Holy Grail. Thus, President Bush, 2008 presidential candidate John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and other Republicans pander on amnesty in order to attract more than the typical 30 percent of the Latino electorate Republican candidates garner. But given the realities of ever-replenished ranks of new immigrants assimilating into a more liberal ethnic enclave, the knights are more likely to succeed than are pandering GOP politicians.

In case you haven't noticed, a stagnant job market, stagnant wages, a stagnant economy, and attendant pocketbook issues register as the most salient issues with voters across the board — white, black, Latino; liberal, moderate, conservative. This fact has escaped the grasp of many national politicians.

The good news for Republicans is they could pick up Latino votes by selling "hope and change" for a stronger economy and better jobs picture. The bad news is, with Latinos being more liberal politically, they're more likely to buy government-centric, redistributionist economic policies the Democrats might sell. Amnesty pandering won't cut it, just as it failed heading into the 2008 election. As a posting at the New York Times put it:

In reality, Hispanics are a relatively normal swing constituency: They tilt Democratic overall and then tend to move toward one party or the other in much the same way that the country as a whole does, rather than swinging wildly left or right depending on whether the Republican candidate is willing to whisper the words "comprehensive immigration reform" at the correct frequency. For Hispanics as for most voters, pocketbook issues matter more than identity politics, and a candidate's overall ideological profile matters more than his positioning on a single issue. (Yes, a Republican who runs a nakedly xenophobic campaign is likely to have a particular problem with Latinos — but then again a nakedly xenophobic campaign is likely to turn off non-Hispanic swing voters as well.) George W. Bush won a larger-than-average share of the Hispanic vote because he campaigned as a center-right figure in general, not because of his particular focus on amnesty for illegal immigrants. John McCain won a smaller-than-average share because the Republican brand was tarnished in 2008 in general, not because the failure of comprehensive immigration reform had poisoned the well with Hispanic voters. And in 2012, there's no reason to think that a more polarizing candidate like Gingrich will be able to compensate for turning off swing voters by cleaning up among Hispanics: If he can't win white independents and white conservative Democrats, he probably won't be able to win Latino independents either. [emphasis added to first sentence]

Generally, appealing to Hispanic voters on the same aspirational issues that resonate with other voters — instead of pandering on immigration issues — would help minimize the damage that mass immigration of the poorer, less skilled, and less educated can cause conservative candidates. But that's merely triage. For longer-term success, paring back overall immigration levels toward traditional levels would do the most to promote economic progress among immigrants, Americanization, and patriotic assimilation.

The bottom line, however, remains that the Latino electorate is more liberal than the general American electorate. Immigration guarantees Democrats two or more new voters for every imported GOP voter. For Republicans, present mass immigration policies make for a losing proposition.