Hispanics - the new colossus in American politics

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Both events have left Mitt Romney virtually tongue tied for fear of offending either his party’s base or the growing Hispanic share of the electorate, so key in the Electoral College. I feel empathy for Romney’s dilemma. Having seen Rick Perry upended in the debates over the latter’s student friendly Texas policy toward immigrant children, Romney cannot now endorse Obama’s easing of deportation, without fear of a toxic game of etch-a-sketch with his party’s base. Yet, to attack Obama’s deportation shift might be the final nail in Romney’s coffin with Hispanic voters. 

Let’s examine the conventional wisdom regarding the Hispanic vote and analyze how reality might intervene to create a more compelling wisdom.

Many say Hispanics will not come out to vote in 2012 as in 2008. It is true that Hispanics voting percentages are low in comparison to other voting blocs.  In 2008, half of eligible Hispanics voted vs. 65 percent of eligible whites and 66 percent of eligible blacks.  Nevertheless, Hispanics rose to a 9 percent share of the national electorate in 2008 over 10 million voters (from 7.8 million in 2004). 

In the  2010 off year election, the Hispanic share of the national electorate increased to 6.9 percent from 5.8 percent in 2004. In the 2010 Nevada and Colorado Senate races, Democrats Reid and Bennett would not have been re-elected without the growth in the Hispanic vote (e.g., in 2010, the Hispanic share of the overall electorate according to exit polls grew to 18 percent in Nevada and it broke overwhelmingly for Harry Reid). 

Arturo Vargas from NALEO projects that with over 23 million eligible Hispanic voters (from 7.5 million in 1986 to 17.3 million in 2006), as many as 12.2 million Hispanics could vote in 2012.

Bringing us to something I dubbed the Double 75 rule. When the white share of the electorate drops to 75 percent or less of the total vote and the Democrats can carry 75 percent or more of the aggregate minority vote (black, Hispanic, Asian and bi-racial), the Republicans have no margin for error.  In 2008, Obama’s victory margin came from carrying the aggregate minority vote – 26 percent of the total vote, by 81-18 percent against McCain.

In 2008, Obama carried the Hispanic vote by a roughly 2-1 margin. If this year’s trendline in the polls holds, Obama could carry Hispanics by closer to a 3-1 margin. If the aggregate minority vote grew to 28 percent of the total vote and the Hispanic surge brought that minority for Obama over Romney 85-15%, it is tough to see Obama losing.    

The next bit of conventional wisdom is that voter ID laws enacted by Republican legislatures states like Florida, will erode the Hispanic turnout. Governor Scott’s voter purge tactics are tied up by court injunctions, but let’s focus on the math. Since 2008, 249,226 additional Hispanics in Florida became eligible to vote. What if Scott’s tactics deterred 10,000 Florida Hispanics from voting, at what point does the anger against those tactics generate higher rates of voting amongst Hispanic Floridians? Will that anger turn out 20,000, 50,000 or 100,000 newly eligible Hispanic voters?  Is the GOP so sure they will win that balance of trade?

A quick peak at key Electoral College states reveals the potential attending Republicans losing that balance of trade. Since 2008 the number of eligible Hispanics grew by 36,271 in New Mexico, 33,631 in Virginia, 41,420 in Colorado and 44,483 in Nevada. In short, the Hispanic tide can overwhelm the GOP’s undertow from strict voter ID laws.

When the exit polls are analyzed in mid-November, I believe that a new conventional wisdom will emerge. Hispanics, like white Catholics in the 1930’s for the Republicans and again in the 1980’s by Democrats, can be ignored or belittled, only at peril of defeat. Hispanics will increasingly stand, both in terms of the popular vote and the Electoral College, as the new colossus astride the crossroads of American politics. Wise candidates and party’s will correspondingly engage and invest in the growing mass of Hispanic voters, no longer to content to placate a base out of touch with the new math of American politics.
   
Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications in Albany, New York and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Albany.