Republicans risk losing Latinos
Feb. 6, 2005
In re-electing President Bush, Republicans narrowly dodged a demographic bullet
that threatens to consign them to minority status in the near future.
The greatest challenge facing the party is to expand beyond its dwindling base
of Anglo voters. But while Bush succeeded in doing so, increasing his share of
Hispanic vote by 9 percentage points from 2000, to 43 percent overall, local
Republicans, with a few notable exceptions, seem intent on driving away the very
Hispanic voters they need to remain dominant.
Nearly 40 million Americans, 13.7 percent of the population, are Hispanic. Their
numbers are projected to grow to 102.6 million and 24 percent of the population
by 2050. Arizona has nearly 1.3 million Hispanics, a number expected to increase
to 2 million over the next decade.
If Republicans maintain their current proportions of Anglo, Hispanic and Black
voters, they quickly will start losing national elections, probably starting
four years from now.
Hispanic voters like Bush, who built a strong relationship with Latino voters as
governor of Texas and whose views on immigration are moderate. They like
Republicans in general less well, however. Registered Democrats outnumber
Republicans among Hispanics by roughly 40 to 25 percent.
That is unfortunate for Republicans because in many ways Hispanics are kindred
spirits in their devotion to traditional values. More than two-thirds of
Hispanic families are headed by a married couple, and most are deeply religious.
More than 1 million have served their country in the armed forces. The
overwhelming majority who come to America are attracted not by welfare but by
the desire to earn an honest living and provide for their families.
Yet to the extent that Arizona Republicans address issues of importance to
Hispanics at all, they choose issues that seem calculated to alienate them.
Every two years, the GOP trots out an issue designed to galvanize conservative
voters by touching on their fears over Hispanic immigration. First it was
bilingual education, then Proposition 200 to curtail benefits for undocumented
immigrants and now an effort to make Arizona an English-only state.
That's not to say there is no merit in those proposals, and indeed some
Hispanics have supported them. But each successive initiative is more symbolic
and less substantive. To constantly prioritize such issues is akin to pulling in
the welcome mat for people who in many respects are more American than those of
us who were lucky enough to have been born here.
Indeed, it seems the easiest way to win a Republican primary, especially against
a Latino opponent, is to run a nativist campaign. In 2002, Tom Horne ousted
Jaime Molera as the state superintendent of education by running as the
anti-bilingual education candidate.
More recently, Andrew Thomas chose to highlight the words "Stop illegal
immigration" on his primary campaign signs even though the county attorney
position has little to do with immigration. (Personally, I think that if Arizona
wants to preserve traditional values, it should wall off its western border, not
its southern one.)
As a result, in a state with more than 1 million Hispanics, there are virtually
no Hispanic Republicans in elected state offices. How can the party hope to
attract Hispanics if they have few leaders with roots in the community?
Far from abandoning core Republican principles, all the party needs to do is to
relate those principles to the day-to-day concerns of Hispanic voters. A perfect
bridge issue is school choice. Many low-income Hispanic schoolchildren are
consigned to substandard public schools.
Providing opportunities for such children to attend private schools would aid
minority schoolchildren while forcing public schools to improve. Public opinion
polls show strong majorities of Hispanics supporting school choice.
Likewise, efforts to reduce barriers to enterprise and homeownership will have
strong appeal among Hispanic voters, as will efforts to reduce crime and to
enlist faith-based institutions to provide social services.
Republicans often address those issues in the abstract without making an effort
to build support among Hispanic voters. That won't do, especially when the party
is working so visibly for its anti-immigration agenda.
The GOP can attempt to wring additional votes from its core constituency only
for so long. The Arizona party, in particular, needs to actively develop a base
among Hispanics by demonstrating a real commitment to shared values.
If Arizona Republicans want to see the self-destructive results of nativist
campaigns, they need only look to the California Republican Party, which
traveled down precisely the same road and transformed itself from a competitive
party to permanent minority status.
And unlike California Republicans, their Arizona counterparts don't seem to have
an Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting in the wings to deliver them from themselves.
Bolick is president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice in