Could the GOP Lose Generations of Latino Voters?

by John Sides on July 11, 2013 · 29 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Immigration

The handful of studies on Latino party identification tends to emphasize its variability across elections as a result of the candidate position-taking on key issues, and the fact that parental socialization of American politics is nonexistent for immigrants (Wong 2000; Alvarez and Bedolla 2003; Nicholson and Segura 2005; Uhlaner and Garcia 2005).  A common understanding in the scholarly research on partisanship is that today’s immigrants do not have fixed or set party allegiances.  There is no research to date that non-citizen immigrants have pre-existing party attachment that they take with to their naturalization ceremony. Rather, immigrants are seen as responsive to the political environment in which they find themselves and develop party attachment as they become citizens, register, and start voting.

In fact, an empirical look at the data confirms this theory.


That is Adrian Pantoja writing over at the Latino Decisions blog.  Their polling shows that 71% of non-citizen Latinos identify as independent or with a minor party, or have no attachment of any kind.  There is a large number of Latinos who, once naturalized, will seemingly be up for grabs.

This gets at my concern about what would happen to the GOP if immigration reform fails.  I am not someone who believes that the 2008 and 2012 elections—and Obama’s success in winning Latinos votes—mean we are heading to a Democratic dynasty in the White House.   There are plenty of other reasons why Republicans may win presidential elections and other elections even if they do not immediately broaden their appeal to Latino voters.

But part of my skepticism about the Democratic dynasty is predicated on the notion that, over the longer run, parties aren’t irrational.  They adapt to secular trends in the country—shifting public attitudes on certain issues (like gay marriage), shifting demographics, etc.  Or they adapt enough that those trends won’t prove fatal and then they can go on to win (or lose) elections based on other things, like the cyclical trends in economic fundamentals.  This prevents dynasties from occurring.

If I were the GOP, I’d be thinking about the long game.  They don’t need to win the majority of Latino votes now or even in the near future.  But, other things equal, they should want to shape the “political environment,” to use Pantoja’s term, so that many of these unaffiliated Latinos will, once naturalized, view the GOP as a party that could represent them.

One prominent theory of party identification is that people identify with the party that they associate with social groups they like or belong to.  So it’s not so much about policy, or what the parties “stand for.”  It’s who the parties “stand with.”  The challenge for the GOP is that even if it supports other policies that many Latinos support, its hostility to immigration reform may be the driving force behind a broader impression: that the Democrats are “the party of Latinos.”  And once those impressions are formed, they are very difficult to change.  As I’ve noted, the perception that the GOP is the “party of the rich” really has not changed for 60 years.

Now, how firmly established is any impression that the GOP is not “the party of Latinos”?  Probably not that firmly established, especially in the minds of Latinos that are not yet citizens.  Most are unaffiliated, as noted, and only 25% identify as Democrats and 3% as Republicans.  But among those that are naturalized citizens? Nearly half, 44%, identify as Democrats and only 15% as Republicans.  In other words, the 22-point advantage Democrats have among non-citizen Latinos becomes 29 points among Latino citizens.  This, to me, suggests that the “political environment” is not currently working in Republicans’ favor.

And if immigration reform were to fail, it is hard for me to see the environment becoming any more favorable.  Think of the “meso-layer” of Latino opinion leaders—the priests, the Spanish-language media personalities, activists, etc.  These are the people that Latinos who may not follow politics closely hear day in and day out, in the pew and on the radio while driving and on their television sets.  What are they going to say if reform fails?  I think the indications are they’ll blame the Republicans, especially if this sort of frame dominates Spanish-language media:

La frase ya se está haciendo recurrente en el Capitolio: “No me gustaría estar en los zapatos del presidente de la Cámara de Representantes John Boehner (R-OH)”. En un lado tiene al extremo de su partido que no acepta nada que se acerque a la legalización. En el otro, enfrenta las amenazas que auguran un futuro político fatídico si no permite un voto con esta opción.

How is the GOP going to be able to get information in front of Latinos that helps them view the party in favorable ways if Latino opinion leaders won’t provide it?

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That’s a not a sure bet, of course.  But it strikes me as the safer one.

{ 29 comments }

M. Sagae July 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm

How about those of us who have been voting Republican for years and are adamantly opposed to this bill and will punish the GOP for letting it pass into law? Larger numbers of voters feel that way than the entirety of the Hispanic electorate.

eric July 12, 2013 at 3:00 am

If you have any really strong evidence to back this up, I know I wouldn’t be the only one to know more about it. Also, for whom would they vote, then?

eric July 12, 2013 at 3:01 am

Correction: “I wouldn’t be the only one who would want to know more about it.”

WB July 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

How would conservative voters punish the GOP for passing immigration reform? Easy; they would primary Republicans who supported the reform and select candidates who promise repeal and hardline anti-immigration policy.

Corp July 13, 2013 at 7:25 am

Go ahead and put your right-wing nutjobs up in the primaries. They will get trounced almost every time when it comes to the generals. There aren’t enough angry whites to make a new party. Time to grow up.

Thomas M. July 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

For many CONSERVATIVE Republicans “Immigration Reform” aka Amnesty is the last straw. If the Republican Party push an Amnesty Bill (I don’t care what they call the bill it is Amnesty) the Republican can kiss a good chunk of their base goodbye.

As for who will we vote for, easy there are three choices
1. Stay Home
2. Vote for the Other Guy to punish the Party and it’s Candidate
3. Start a new party and send the GOP to ash heap next to the Whigs.

As for the Polls, if a majority of Republicans back Amnesty, the bill would have already been passed and signed into law.

PS Even if every Hispanic eligible to vote had voted for Mitt Romney in the last election Obama would still be living in the White House. Mitt failed to get his voters our and that is what cost him the election.

Ted July 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

This is the dilemma facing GOP elected officials. Voters like Thomas M. are adamant that they will vote only for officials who oppose amnesty. But what Thomas doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care about?) is that only a minority of voters nationwide share his views. And it’s getting worse every year. If the Thomases of the world insist on candidates who oppose amnesty, they may force GOP candidates to take the same hard line. But these candidates will face increasingly stiff headwinds in the general election – meaning more Democratic policies across the board.

Yes, it’s true that Romney could not have won only by winning more Hispanic votes alone. But if he had won more of those votes – if he hadn’t been absolutely crushed – he wouldn’t have needed so many white votes to win. If the GOP alienates Hispanics and Asians, it will need overwhelming turnout AND margins among whites. Trende’s scenarios look for the GOP to win 71% of the white vote, on a very big turnout. Not going to happen.

I keep hearing about that we cannot condone lawbreaking by immigrants. To most of us, this is hypocrisy and nonsense. Not all laws are the same. How many of the people who say this speed when they’re on the highway? Does that mean they’re “lawbreakers” who deserve the same harsh punishment as someone who breaks into your house? Of course not. Nobody believes all laws are the same. So why to amnesty opponents feel so strongly about people who enter this country illegally? Why is this crime so serious?

There is a lot of discomfort among white anglos because the country is changing. We aren’t a huge majority anymore, and in a few decades we won’t even be a majority. That scares some of us. But change is the way of life. This earth doesn’t belong to us; we make way for the next generation, and we will see what they make. I prefer to do that with hope, with curiosity, and with encouragement. We have much in common and much to gain. But fear and hatred is always another option – hopefully, one that is losing.

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:26 am

Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky. I think there’s an excellent chance that the missing whites will turn up, and start voting Repubiclan. (=It’s completely possible that Repubs will invoke the Klan again, and scare non-whites into not voting. See Ted Nugent, he could totally do it.)
Let’s not forget that Repubs have successfully convinced generations of poor whites to consistently vote to give their money to the rich (What would the poor do with money, anyways? Just waste it on booze). To assume that they couldn’t do the same with Latino’s is to assume that Latinos are SMARTER than whites …

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:28 am

Yes, staying home is a good way to punish them, perhaps next time they will nominate a REAL conservative.

Medis July 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

Polling suggests that a large majority of Republican voters favor immigration reform as represented in the Senate bill (which is not a coincidence, since the Senate bill was specifically crafted to get the votes of a significant number of Republican Senators).

Some portion of the small minority of Republican voters who oppose such a policy could potentially decide that they will just sit out voting for one or more elections if the House passes something like the Senate bill, but that would not be particularly rational behavior (a small minority within a party can’t rationally expect to win all the time on every issue), and it is unlikely such an effect would persist over the long-term to any significant degree.

And of course it is entirely possible that defections among the majority of Republicans who favor immigration reform would at least partially offset, and perhaps even entirely offset, any such defections among the minority of Republicans who oppose immigration reform.

So it isn’t at all obvious that the House passing something like the Senate bill would be against Republican Party electoral interests even in the short term due to possible defections among disgruntled Republican voters, and that is almost surely not the case in the long term.

Wonks Anonymous July 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

“The challenge for the GOP is that even if it supports other policies that many Latinos support”
Which it doesn’t.

Gurkman July 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Very good analysis, though I’ve yet to meet a Latino who gives a rat’s ass about what the local cura (priest) has to say about politics. Evangelical Hispanics, perhaps, but definitely not Catholics.

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

Yes, this is the dumb assumption that, like whites, Latinos will slavishly follow their priest.

redware July 12, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Never had them,never will.So who cares!

suzy000 July 12, 2013 at 4:44 pm

On the national level for the last 35 years, Latinos have always voted Democratic. Why? Latinos love big government…big government provides freebies. Don’t believe it? After Reagan administered amnesty…they continued to vote left. Nothing will change this until they start paying substantial taxes..then they wise up.

CatoRenasci July 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Indeed. And, most Latino immigrants – legal or illegal – come from cultures in which the rule of law is a joke, corruption is endemic in all aspects of everyday life, including dealing with the government, and governments are authoritarian as a matter of course, and the Roman Catholic Church has long supported submission to authority and suppression of dissent. There is NO tradition of individual liberty in any Spanish-speaking country. There was something of one in Argentina, before the 1930s, and in Chile before Allende. Beyond that? Nothing. There are many positive things about Spanish and Latin culture, but an understanding, and appreciation, of individual liberty is not one of them. Even for the educated. Of course, the Latinos we get here are rarely the educated (though we do get educated Argentines), but rather the uneducated who accept authoritarianism without question. As long as it gives them stuff. So of course they’re Democrats here.

We should waste not one minute specifically appealing to Latinos. Rather we should insist that any immigrant who wants to be a citizen (1) come legally and (2) demonstrate an understanding and commitment to the rule of law and individual liberty.

Nobody who hasn’t read the Federalist as well as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in English, should be permitted to become a citizen!

Ted July 13, 2013 at 10:15 am

And should people born here who haven’t read the Federalist Papers (probably the large majority of Americans) lose their citizenship?

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:39 am

a large majority hasn’t read the constitution nor dec of independence either

Paul A'Barge July 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm

If a Latino is not a Conservative why would we cater to him/her. Screw them. They are the enemy of bumanity.

mike July 12, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Why didn’t the 1986 Republican Amnesty win over generations of Hispanics?

Devan July 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Excellent question. He majority of central and South Americans coming here have a Che Guevera mentality and will NEVER vote for fundamental American principles and beliefs

Devan July 12, 2013 at 6:14 pm

What is never discussed is how turned off Hispanics are becoming with the ever more radical and perverted agenda of the Democrat party….as many blacks already are (and loudly switching to the Repubslican party)

Wygrif July 12, 2013 at 10:09 pm

LOL. Keep dreaming.

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

This is THE essential stupidity of KKKonservatives: They’re totally dissing the Latinos and in the same breath telling us that Latinos hate the Democrats, and moreover, that BLACKS hate Democrats … after losing them 4-96%.
It’s breath taking, really.

bluesdoc70 July 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Lose generations of Hispanic voters by not passing amnesty?..LOL..Hispanics just voted overwhelmingly for the self proclaimed biggest deporter of Hispanics to ever hold the office.

TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

Conservatives should indeed keep pointing out that latinos are lazy freeloaders. That will generate votes a LOT!

Daniel July 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Even if we leave aside all questions of law and integrity as Mr. Sides asks us and look at the issue from a purely Machiavellian standpoint, passing amnesty for illegals (as a legal immigrant, I refuse to call this proposal anything but what it is) is still a horrible idea for the GOP, as the history aptly cites by Suzy and Mike demonstrates. The reason Mr. Sides’ “scientific” analysis fails to explain that history is that it contains a hole big enough to sail an aircraft carrier through. I don’t need to call on my experience as a double-immigrant who was part of the massive post USSR emigration wave to explain why the notion of new immigrants lacking party identification is absurd. Immigrants’ birth lands have parties too, or at the very least political movements, with which the people of those countries are affiliated, and they carry those affilations with them to their new countries, where they align with the party whose ideology (or at least policy consequences) most resemble those of the movement with which they were associated. The reason so many new arrivals appear “up for gabs”, is that they just got here, and likely don’t know that the Dems and GOP are our political parties, let alone what they stand for or what the alternatives are. You might as well ask them if they are team Edward or team Jacob (please pardon the Twilight reference). However, once they figure out what’s what, they align with the closest equivalent of their old party regardless of its immigration stance in a perfectly predicable pattern.
For immigrants from other western countries it’s simple, immigrants who were rightists go to the GOP, those who were leftists to the Dems. In non-western countries (like those of Latin America) whose political spectrum is shifted very much to the authoritarian right (compared to the US) the liberal fringe ends up roughly aligned with the GOP (generally a little to its right), and everyone is closer to the other side of our policy spectrum, I.e. the Dems (remember the adage that extremes meet. That’s why, among the small number of Latino immigrants and illegals who already know our parties’ ideologies Dems get a massive 5 to 1 advantage.

Just as a point of I forest, the pattern is reversed for immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries and exiles from the East (like Florida’s Cuban community), whose reaction to authoritarianism is to shift their spectrum hard to the libertarian left. That leaves the extreme rightists roughly aligned with the Dems, and everyone else in the GOP as the alternative.

Daniel July 12, 2013 at 7:56 pm

P.S. that’s “point of interest” (darn tablet autocorrect feature).

eric July 12, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Anecdotal, I’m sure, but this thread might have a handful of answers as to why Latino immigrants align with the Democrats.

Just sayin…

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