Thursday, August 19, 2010

Politics: Demographic Trouble? Yeah, Right

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The left wing seems to be taking some kind of weird solace in the "time bomb" of demographics in the United States. The Republicans might do exceptionally well this election cycle, the thinking goes, but Hispanics vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and will make up 25% of the electorate by 2050. It's only a matter of time until the Republicans are in big trouble. Unfortunately for those promulgating this theory, it's delusional.

It is true that about two-thirds of Hispanics voted for Barack Obama in 2008, a rate greater than just about any group other than African-Americans. Their votes turned the tide for Democrats in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. Yet, in the long-term view, that may prove a blip. In 2004, George W. Bush attracted about 45 percent of Hispanic vote, within striking distance of his overall share of the electorate.

George W. Bush, while occasionally campaigning in Spanish and clearly making an effort to court the Hispanic vote, was hardly a Hispanic icon. He did not resonate with the immigrant experience which is fresher for many Hispanics than much of the rest of the population. Besides emphasizing relations with Mexico, his foreign and economic policies did little to entice Hispanics. While he often talked about immigration reform, little was accomplished in this regard in two terms as president.

It's not hard to imagine that if Republicans nominated a Hispanic (think Marco Rubio after a couple terms in the Senate, or even former Florida governor Bob Martinez now) that they could really break through. If that candidate made real immigration reform with some sort of limited amnesty a campaign plank, it would seem believable that he (or she) could attract two-thirds of the Hispanic vote just like Barack Obama did.

Republicans argue that Hispanics, who are more likely to be Catholic, are fundamentally social conservatives, more opposed to gay marriage and abortion than the general population, and therefore are a more natural fit with their party. Democrats counter that while that might be true, Hispanics are more likely to vote on the basis of economic issues than social issues, and in that realm the Democrats are a better match. So far, the Democrats have been right, but I don't think the Republicans have really tried yet.

I don't expect the Republican Party to shrink into a small TEA party in the long term, and for the sake of robust democracy in the United States, we should hope that it doesn't. If for the sake of its survival, the GOP starts to reach out to diverse groups, it strikes me that it could reverse the demographic time bomb. Marco Rubio is not the only right-wing Hispanic. The Democrats that think time and demographics are on their side are ostriches, and I suspect they may have a big surprise ahead of them.

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