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Sunday, August 21, 2005

The political significance of Latinos to the GOP 

As previously reported, I have been reading (as just finished) The Right Nation, an outstanding and balanced survey of the rise of the American right and its significance both in American politics and abroad. The authors, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge are a couple of Brits (with names like those, who would have guessed?) who write for The Economist. I do not recall ever having read a better book about American politics. Whether you are left or right (there are aspects of The Right Nation that will annoy you regardless, which is evidence of the book’s value), it is essential reading.

The Right Nation is both history and political analysis, and as such it is packed with interesting passages. I was particularly struck by the authors’ analysis of the political significance of America’s growing Latino population, which at first blush bodes well for the Democrats:
Demography gives Democrats hope. Although they are not always the most conscientious voters, hyphenated Americans increased their share of the voting electorate from about a tenth in 1972 to almost a fifth in 2000 – and coule make up nearly a quarter in 2010. So far these new minorities have overwhelmingly supported the Democrats. The only big exception has been Cuban-Americans, who have stuck by the Republicans in the belief that they will take a harsher line with Fidel Castro.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge go on to argue, however, that the Democrats cannot be certain that they will maintain their lock on Latino voters (bold emphasis below added):
We think this picture may begin to change. The big question about the Latinos is whether they will end up voting more like blacks or Italian-Americans. Blacks have stuck loyally to the Democratic cause, but most immigrant groups become more Republican the longer they stay in the country. They move to the suburbs, losing contact with the Democratic Party’s great urban political machines. They start their own businesses, making them more receptive to the Republican Party’s anti-regulation message. All these things seem to be happening to Latinos as well. One analysis of Latino voting in ten states in the 2002 election found that about a third of Latinos plumped for Republican Senate candidates and almost half for Republican governors. George Bush won about 40 percent of the Latino vote nationally in 2004. The great exception remains California, where Latinos were driven firmly into the arms of the Democratic Party not by underlying social trends but by Pete Wilson’s colossal political blunder in supporting Proposition 187, which sought to deny state benefits to illegal immigrants. “We were being called lazy and loafers,” says Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based writer. “There is no more antiwelfare voter than a Mexican immigrant.”

This sort of comment underlines another claim made by Republican optimists: that Latinos are worthy strivers – hard working, God-fearing, family-oriented and upwardly mobile. They have the highest male workforce participation rate of any measured group – and one of the lowest incidences of trade union membership and welfare dependency (only 17 percent of immigrant Latinos in poverty collect welfare, compared with 50 percent of poor whites and 65 percent of poor blacks). Latinos are arguably the family-oriented ethnic group in American society. They also have a marked propensity to start their own businesses and buy their own homes – both incubators of Republicanism. Rodriguez, who did a detailed study of Latinos in the five-county L.A. area in the 1990s, argues that the most common experience is one of upward mobility in the middle class. The study shows that in 1990 U.S.-born Latinos had four times as many households in the middle-class as in poverty and that about 50 percent of U.S.-born Latinos had household incomes above the national average. The percentage of Latino immigrants in poverty declines sharply the longer they stay in the United States – and the percentage who own their own homes rises sharply. Within twenty years of arriving in the country, half of Latinos own their own homes.

This is not to say that Latinos are likely to move en masse into the Republican fold. The flow of poor South American immigrants into low-paying jobs will always provide a flow of recruits into the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, the likelihood is that the Latino vote will split increasingly along class lines, as the more established Latinos follow the pattern of Italian-Americans. There is no reason why the Republicans cannot make inroads into the Latinos provided they don’t shoot themselves in the foot by supporting restrictive policies on immigration. Bush, who won two in five Latino votes in 2004 (compared with Bob Dole’s one in five in 1996), is certainly aware of this. He floated the idea of a comprehensive guest-worker program early in his presidency, but the idea was scuttled by security concerns after September 11. In January 2004, he returned to the subject, proposing giving temporary legal status to the 8 million – 10 million illegal immigrants in American (half of whom are from Mexico). The move, which was broadly welcomed by the Mexican government, probably helped the Republicans win Latino votes in swing states like Florida, New Mexico and Nevada.

The Republican Party has always had a strong nativist streak – remember that the stridently anti-immigration “Know Nothings” were among the GOP’s antecedents just before the Civil War. The question is whether that tendency – which is still strong (although less manifestly anti-Catholic than its 19th century version) in the Pat Buchanan wing of the party – will dominate Republican policy on immigration. Bush’s proposals on immigration, including especially his benign attitude toward illegal immigration from Mexico, have met their most strident opposition on the right. At the moment, at least, the Republicans show every likelihood of “shooting themselves in the foot” with Latino voters once Bush is out of the picture.

Perhaps, however, pro-immigration forces within the Republican party can devise a policy that separates those who are genuinely concerned about border security from the nativists who simply do not want to see more Latino immigration. One can imagine a policy that encourages documented, legal immigration from Mexico and points south, and at the same time polices the border sufficiently to keep out al Qaeda. Could that thread the needle sufficiently to attract Latino voters to the GOP and keep the nativists from staying home, or worse, voting for the Democrats?

9 Comments:

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Sun Aug 21, 09:31:00 AM:

The underlying assumption in this analysis of the immigration issue is that ethnic hispanics are fundamentally opposed to restrictions on the illegal immigration of other ethnic hispanics. I think that this is an extremely condescending and non-intuitive conclusion.

I have not yet studied the results of the polling data, but I have heard that citizens of Mexican descent are split pretty evenly on the issue of Mexican immigration, which makes a lot of sense. For a lot reasons.

(I, for example, am of German descent, but I'd be screaming bloody murder if millions of Germans were pouring over the border.)

I should point out that I am generally very pro-immigration, as it is a huge source of the greatness of this country and continues to be. But I am against unrestricted migration, and given the dollars spent in the name of security, it is appalling that the Mexican border is as porous as it is. It is an obvious gaping hole in our security aparatus.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Aug 22, 07:44:00 AM:

It isn't that I assume that Latinos are fundamentally opposed to restrictions on legal immigration, but I think that is the political result. Why? Because the immigration activists have among them people who are clearly opposed primarily to Latino immigration. Latinos understand this, and it does not make them happy.

In any case, you are making precisely my point. For the Republicans to hang on to their gains among Latinos and build on them, they will have to craft an immigration policy that is understood to be "pro-security" without being "anti-Latino." That's a tall order.

As for your German identity, may I point out that you are approximately 1/16th German (by my calculations). No wonder you don't want to see them pouring into the country.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 23, 05:33:00 PM:

I'm pro-immigrant, but anti-law breaking. Is that intollerant?  

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I don't know how others feel, but I'm definitely looking into immigration to Canada as an option. The good ól US of A aint what it used to be.  

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