Scholars and pundits have speculated on the influence of the Latino vote for the past several elections. As a malleable population in the United States, there is no uniform consensus in either party on how to reach this section of the electorate that has changed drastically in the past forty years.
One of the biggest stories to emerge out of the 2012 election is the explosion of Latinos that cast ballots for president. The Pew Hispanic Center, in a report titled, “An Awakened Giant”, has found using U.S. Census Bureau data that the Hispanic electorate is likely to double by 2030. Aging, naturalization and further immigration are likely to drive growth. Latinos are the by far the youngest ethnic group, and as this population reaches voting age, they will be an even more significant force in U.S. politics.
Even more startling was President Obama’s shocking sweep of Latino votes over Mitt Romney – Obama widened his margin of victory in this voting bloc from 36 points in the 2008 election over John McCain to 44 points to garner 71 per cent of the Latino vote over Romney’s 27 per cent. This had incredible impacts in battleground states such as Florida and Colorado. These numbers haven’t always been the same for the Democratic Party, however – President George Bush in 2004 got an astonishing 40 per cent of the Latino vote (Casellas & Ibarra).
Why the increasing disparity? Republicans point to several key political moves made by the Obama administration as catering to the Latino bloc. The appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009 made history as the first Latina to sit on the bench, and the executive order issued this June beginning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowing illegal minors to seek higher education and military service in this country without facing deportation, has certainly appealed to Latino voters. Conversely, Mitt Romney was plagued with poor PR when dealing with Latino groups. In addition to no clear immigration plan other than highly criticized “self-deportation”, he endured more frivolous struggles including a rumor that he got a spray-tan before attending a Univision event to appear less white.
Jason Casellas and Joanne Ibarra wrote a fascinating piece, “Changing Political Landscapes for Latinos in America,” for the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education discussing the dynamic of Latinos and political parties. Though non-Cuban Latinos have historically voted Democratic, strategists have suggested that with rising economic viability and social conservatism, the Republican Party has an opportunity to these voters. The article points out that although several moderate Republican leaders such as Jeb Bush have made in-roads with Latinos, the party is tied to an “anti-immigrant agenda and draconian cuts in social services.” Casellas and Ibarra point out the Republican Party attempt to re-brand itself from an all-white party; Marco Rubio’s prime speaking spot at the Republican National Convention is certainly evidence of that effort.
The Republican Party is at a massive crossroads in refining its immigration policy – this Latino bloc is changing every year. As net migration from Mexico fell to zero this year, the antiquated rhetoric of building a wall around the United States seems foolish and short-sighted. When Governor Rick Perry was booed at the GOP presidential candidate debate for his support of a DREAM Act-like bill allowing in-state tuition at universities for illegal immigrants, the fundamental problem of the Republican Party’s outreach to Latino voters was truly displayed. The Republican National Committee has a lot of re-tooling to do, lest this voting bloc fall to the Democratic Party.