Jeb Bush’s comments address the importance of Latino voters

Jeb Bush was right to address the human side of illegal immigration with his latest comments; challenging the usual diatribes and harsh rhetoric of conservative pundits and politicians. In describing the motivation of those who cross our borders as an “act of love,” Bush also made a statement about the future political landscape of the United States. While conservative radio and talk show hosts have predictably lambasted Bush for his thoughtful assessment on immigration, these same Republican cheerleaders ignore the growing relevance of Hispanic voters as well as the growing Latino population.

In the future, voters won’t care about birth certificate myths and similar Republican strategies used to scare people into voting for the GOP. Why? The answer lies within the projections and data of the Pew Research Center. According to Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends, the future of American politics will be decided by today’s minority voters. By 2050, the same minority groups who gave Obama roughly 80 percent of their vote will become the majority of the United States population. Thirty six years from now, Latinos (29 percent), African-Americans, and Asians will make up over half of the U.S. population. White voters will comprise either half or slightly less than half of the population.

Why should Republicans take notice of these demographic shifts?

In 2012, election results show that 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics, and 73 percent of Asian-Americans voted for President Obama. Furthermore, Obama won the Latino vote by a huge margin in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Colorado. As for the future of the Republican Party, strategists should correlate Bush’s latest comment with the following quote from Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends:

"The forces behind this transformation are a mix of immigration, births and deaths. The United States is more than four decades into what has been, in absolute numbers, the biggest immigration wave in its history–more than 40 million arrivals. Unlike previous waves that were almost entirely from Europe, the modern influx has been dominated by Hispanic and Asian immigrants.

These immigrants, like those from previous centuries, tend to have higher shares of women of childbearing age and higher birth rates than the U.S.-born population. Most of the growth in the Latino population and much of the growth in the Asian population will be driven by births rather than immigration."

These changing demographic trends don’t mean that there won’t be conservatives like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz in the future. Rather, these projections point to the reality that the vast majority of these voters won’t be similar to Rubio or Cruz in their outlook on issues like immigration. Whereas conservatives like Ted Cruz promote a message of illegal immigrants being lawbreakers, this type of rhetoric will lose votes in the long term. Jeb Bush’s recent comments are aimed at resonating with the 77 percent of Latino voters who view that undocumented immigrants should receive some path to legalization. Since Hispanics voted over 70 percent for Obama in 2012, it is difficult to fathom that they wouldn’t vote for a Democratic overwhelmingly in 2016 and beyond.  As for the country as a whole, a recent CBS News poll shows that around two thirds of Americans currently favor either a pathway to citizenship or some way for illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally without citizenship.

Finally, Bush’s immigration comments not only deal with the growing influence of Latino voters. Bush has opened up dialogue within his party about the philosophical reasons for illegal immigration. While those on the far right have painted the issue for decades as “law breakers intent at mocking U.S. sovereignty,” Bush has now forced conservatives (and their influential pundits) to see illegal immigration for what it is – or at least for how Latino’s view the issue: people searching for work to feed their families.  

Goodman is an author and journalist.

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