Old News About Latino Voters

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on December 30, 2011

A new Pew Hispanic Center poll relays some old news: Latino voters favor the Democratic presidential candidate by better than 2-to-1.

The major difference in this latest poll of Latino voters is the names of candidates have changed. Obama garners about 69 percent over Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who each get 23 percent. That's entirely within the usual ballpark, given the 5 percentage-point margin of error. Bush and Reagan edged upwards around 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in actual electoral matches in their re-elections, while McCain hit the normal 30-ish percent.

The strong support for Obama comes despite 59 percent Latino disapproval ratings of his handling illegal aliens (deporting lots of them) versus 27 percent approval. In other words, Hispanic voters' views on immigration enforcement don't directly translate into rejection of a candidate. Thus, other things must be at play in their electoral calculus.

Compare the virtual ties in level of support Latinos are giving Romney, whose immigration platform is tougher, and Perry, who's taken a softer on immigration position. That issue hasn't demonstrably helped Perry or hurt Romney with Latino voters, at least according to the Pew survey. This fact bodes ill for the hopes of success from the "pander to Hispanics on immigration" approach open-borders consultants are shoving upon GOP elites.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that a national opinion poll only goes so far in predicting national electoral outcomes. That's because we vote state by state.

A national poll may be skewed by heavy Hispanic concentration in blue states like California, Illinois, and New York. But when the primaries start next week, it's only Hispanic voters within each party caucusing in Iowa, turning out to vote in the New Hampshire primary, and voting in South Carolina's and Florida's early primaries.

Same principle applies when the general election rolls around. California may hold a lot of electoral votes, but only those Latino residents who qualify to vote and who show up to vote can affect the state's balloting. That is, California's plethora of Latinos can't give Obama more electoral votes than the state has in total. And Hispanic presence is still quite slim in swing states like Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that have sizable blocs of electoral votes. Thus, the election there will have to be swung one way or another by other voters, and immigration may or may not be a very salient issue come November. This phenomenon helps explain why Perry did better in Texas with Hispanic voters than he does nationally with Latinos.

Which brings us to another point. Latino voters aren't focused on immigration as their make-or-break issue. As the Washington Post reported, "The new Pew poll found that immigration is 'extremely important' for a third of Hispanic voters, although that issue trails jobs, education, health care, taxes and the federal budget deficit on that list." Hispanic respondents cited immigration as a low priority issue, when having to choose among other, more pressing issues. And the issues Latinos are truly concerned about are economic issues like jobs and taxes and social issues like education and health care.

As James Gimpel pointed out in a recent Backgrounder, political socialization and one's party identification has a lot greater staying power and a lot greater sway over how people vote. In the case of Latinos, generally speaking, they overwhelmingly identify with and as Democrats. Pew found two-thirds of poll respondents consider themselves Democrats and a fifth identify with the Republican Party. That shows in how they selected candidates in the presidential match-ups in this very poll.

Until Latino voters adopt middle-class values and move away from the entitlement and redistributionist goodies sold by Democrats, higher proportions of that voting bloc won't shift to the GOP. Large numbers of rank-and-file Latino voters won't make that move from the party that gives them largesse to the other party until assimilation occurs at a much greater rate – economic assimilation, political assimilation, social and cultural assimilation ("middle-class values" for short). And the only way to speed up assimilation and economic and social progress of this immigrant stock is to reduce immigration levels, including legal immigration, so that the immigrants we do admit can catch up in this society, instead of being stuck in the barrios where Democratic ward heelers can entice them into voting for crass personal advantages.