Last spring, the Pew and Kaiser foundations teamed up to ask Hispanic, white, and black registered voters a long series of intriguing questions. The results were finally released earlier this month. They immediately got the big spin, with much of the media rushing to frame the results according to Karl Rove's storyline - that Republicans are this close to making a historic breakthrough with Hispanic voters.
"Hispanic loyalty to single political party a myth, poll shows" - Tucson Citizen, October 4, 2002.
"Survey: Latino voters tough to label politically" - Sacramento Bee, October 4, 2002
"Hispanics Not Solid for Either US Party" - Houston Chronicle, October 4, 2002
"A majority of Hispanic voters identify themselves as Democrats, but they show significant ambivalence toward the party, suggesting a growing electorate that may be up for grabs, according to a survey released yesterday." — Washington Post, October 2, 2002
The Pew-Kaiser poll confirms that Latinos are inclined toward the Democratic Party, but are not strongly committed to either party. — Michael Barone, U.S. News & World Report, October 5, 2002
Baloney. Hispanic consultants working for both the Republicans and the Democrats have a financial incentive to whoop up this idea that Hispanics are a real battleground -it makes their own services appear more valuable. But what's Rove's or Barone's excuse? The plain fact is that Hispanics voting patterns have been surprisingly stable since John F. Kennedy's election. And for the GOP, they're awful.
If you actually study the poll (you can read Pew's commentary and see their graphs here, or inspect the raw numbers here — both require Adobe Acrobat), you'll see that the Democrats have a solid hold on Hispanic registered voters. Some 49% identify themselves as Democrats, compared to merely 20% who say they are Republican. In contrast, whites identify as Republicans by a 37%-24% advantage.
To make this 2.45 to 1 ratio look less dire, Barone, a fervent backer of mass immigration, argues that Hispanics are "substantially less Democratic than blacks (64 to 5 percent Democratic)."
True, but so what? A lot of white Republicans like Barone seem to view Hispanic immigrants in this condescending way, as the New Improved Poor Minority whose increasing numbers somehow dilute (rather than augment) the problems caused by the Old Unimproved Poor Minority. Because Hispanics are somewhat less fanatically anti-Republican than blacks, Hispanic immigration is perceived as a boon to the GOP. Instead of slitting its wrists and jumping off a cliff, the GOP is just slitting its wrists.
Furthermore, the data reveals something even worse for the GOP: Hispanic Republicans aren't terribly Republican. The official summary reports:
"Registered Latinos who identify as Republicans take a much more liberal stand on taxes and the size of government than their white counterparts. … About half (52%) of registered Latinos who identified themselves as Republicans said they would rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government, while only 17% of white Republicans stated that view."
In fact, on the question of more taxing and spending, Hispanic Republicans are slightly more liberal than white Democrats. Indeed, Hispanic Republicans are to the left of African-Americans!
But what about social issues? Barone waxes enthusiastic:
"On cultural issues, [Hispanics] tend to be more conservative. More than whites, they disapprove of abortion, homosexual sex, and divorce. Latinos born outside the United States are even more conservative on these matters. This suggests that many Latino Democrats will not be entirely comfortable in a party one of whose most fervently supported positions is "choice" on abortions."
Baloney again. If you look at the poll results, you'll notice something really odd: Hispanics are no more socially conservative than blacks - who identify 64%-5% with the Democrats. As the Pew people report,
"Registered Latinos are somewhat more socially conservative than registered whites … On the other hand, Latinos seem to share social views with those of registered African Americans."
Are Hispanics - or, for that matter, blacks - going to vote Republican based on these moral views? The answer is already in: no. Except when voting on rare single-issue referendums, such as California's anti-gay marriage initiative California two years ago, the Hispanic electorate seems far more concerned about bread and butter issues. Indeed, in their new book The Emerging Democratic Majority, (click here for my review) John Judis and Ruy Teixeira contend that in American politics, social issues are essentially a luxury item that primarily interest better-off groups.
I'll use Barone's article to examine the typical spin-job further, because Barone is considered, quite deservedly, one of America's most learned authorities on electoral politics. His approach is a little more cautious and allusive than that of some of the more innumerate journalists. But he's still wrong.
Here, Barone tries to find a silver lining for Republicans among Hispanics who don't yet vote much or at all:
"And, interestingly, young Latinos are not nearly as likely to identify themselves as Democrats as their elders: those 18 to 29 are 34 percent Democratic and 21 percent Republican. Nearly half do not identify with either party. … There is also room for growth among Latinos who are not yet voters or even citizens. Of those who are citizens but not voters, 31 percent are Democrats and 10 percent Republicans. But among Latinos who are planning on becoming U.S. citizens, the Democratic advantage is only 22 to 14 percent–not far from the statistical margin of error."
But there's an obvious alternative explanation for this difference: many of these people haven't settled on the Democrats because they simply don't know much about American politics. Most 18-29 year olds have more fun things to do with their lives than watch Meet the Press. In contrast, when you reach my age, getting out of the house in order to register to vote might be the highlight of your week.
Further, citizens who don't vote abstain for a reason: they just don't care. And the eventual partisan alignment of people who aren't citizens is an irrelevant hypothetical question — that's why only 36% even ventured an answer.
In fact, the Pew survey shows that as Hispanics go through life and get more involved with American politics, they more and more realize which side their bread is buttered on: among Latinos 55 and up, the Democrats lead 64% to 17%.
Nor is it likely that future immigrants will swarm into the Republican Party. Foreign-born Hispanics actually appear to be slightly more liberal and Democrat-inclined than native-born Hispanics (although the latter may simply be more cynical and alienated).
Barone also alludes to Bush's supposed high popularity among Hispanics:
"On the economy, Latino voters say they have more confidence in Democrats than Republicans by a 53 to 27 percent margin … But when President Bush is mentioned the balance changes. On the economy, 43 percent have more confidence in Democrats in Congress, 42 percent in President Bush."
Oh yeah? The poll was taken last spring when the Conqueror of Kabul's prestige was riding high. So it's hardly surprising that Bush sounded good compared to some faceless Congressmen. But among whites, Bush beat Congress by even more - 59% to 29%. Conclusion: his performance among Hispanics, despite the hype, was still relatively weak.
The media has been much abuzz over a Hispanic swing to the Republicans. But there's a small problem: that swing hasn't quite gone through the formality of actually taking place. Overall, the Pew survey suggests that if there will be any big change in alignment among Latinos over the next decade, it's at least as likely to be a movement toward the Democrats - just as Asian-American voters slid sharply to the left between 1992 and 2000.
October 13, 2002