Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. – Here’s a simple way of looking at it: If the Hispanic vote had swung 20 points in the GOP’s direction in every swing state, Obama would still have prevailed in the Electoral College with a 303-235 victory. While losses among Hispanics would cost Obama his narrow win in Florida, even a net-20 point GOP gain wouldn’t swing Colorado or Nevada. And if it did, Obama would still have won through either Virginia or Ohio.
Although an “evolution” on Immigration Reform and similar or related issues is probably prerequisite to any serious GOP effort to repair its support in the Hispanic community, many commentators have correctly observed that moving to the left on immigration isn’t a panacea. There are many reasons why Hispanics lean-Democratic, and it’s an open question whether concessions on immigration reform could erase the memory of a half-decade’s worth of immigration fights.
For instance, in Florida, the state where the Latino vote figures most prominently into Republican fortunes, the “immigration” issue there might actually have a lesser degree of import to the latino community because, in truth, the heavy Puerto Ricans and Cuban communities are probably less connected to the immigration debate than Hispanics originating in Mexico or Central America.
And elsewhere, the importance of the Hispanic vote is diminished by the Electoral College. While Hispanic voters were truly decisive in Florida, Latinos are inefficiently concentrated in non-competitive states, like Texas and California.
In many battleground states, the Hispanic vote plays a vanishingly small role. Obama won New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Iowa by a larger margin than the Hispanic share of the electorate, suggesting that Obama would have won if Romney had won every Hispanic voter in those states.
The exit polls suggest that Hispanics represented just 3 and 5% of the electorate in Virginia and Ohio, only slightly more than Obama’s 2 and 4 point margins of victory.
Even in the southwestern states, where the Latino vote plays a critical role in the recent fortune of Democratic candidates, Obama’s strength among non-Hispanic voters in Colorado and Nevada gave Democrats breathing room to withstand considerable losses among Hispanic voters.
When the initial national exit polls showed an increase in Hispanic turnout and support for President Obama, political commentators immediately resolved that Romney’s deeply conservative immigration stance doomed him. The “immigration” explanation, or perhaps excuse, quickly and easily attracted bi-partisan support.
The argument satisfied Democrats who had long anticipated a Latino surge to inaugurate a new era of Democratic dominance in national elections, and the immigration excuse was also quite convenient for Republicans of all brands as well – minus Lou Dobbs, Pat Buchanan & Tom Tancredo. The establishment wing of the Republican Party supported comprehensive immigration reform all along, and pinning the blame on immigration reform allowed true conservatives to avoid questioning deeply held position closer to the core of their beliefs.
Romney’s performance among Latino voters was abysmal, and it wasn’t helped by his stance on immigration reform. But the immigration explanation for Romney’s defeat isn’t quite as good as it sounds.
The GOP also fell short of their benchmarks with rural Midwesterners, voters in well-educated and affluent suburbs, and African Americans. Hispanic voters were just one of many components of Obama’s victory, not an overriding factor.
The GOP will have miscalculated the breadth of their challenge if they adopt immigration reform as their one-plank plan for recapturing the White House in 2016.
Making matters worse for Republicans, Democratic Senate candidates ran as well as or ahead of the president in white areas in just about every competitive state, including:
The performance of these candidates suggests that the GOP’s issues extend beyond specific problems with Romney, or the unique appeal of the president. And most likely, its too early to tell whether Republicans were hurt more by abortion, tax policy, or something else, but it’s clear that Romney’s issue among rural, white northerners wasn’t just Bain Capital, and his problem in affluent suburbs wasn’t just his pledge to end funding to Planned Parenthood.
If Romney’s historic performance among white voters manifested evenly across the electoral map, then Republicans could justifiably consider their “demographic challenge” as their primary obstacle to victory in 2016. But the Republicans shouldn’t let their national standing among white voters obscure their real challenges with white voters outside of the South.
Certainly, it’s not useful for Republican strategists to take solace in Obama’s 39% showing among white voters if Obama still managed to do much better than Kerry or Gore in states like:
- New Hampshire, or
In the Electoral College system, turning “lean Republican” states like Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri into “solid Republican” states just doesn’t matter.
Obama leads the national popular vote by about 3 points, but the exit polls indicate that Hispanics represented just 10% of the electorate. Finding 3 points worth of gains in 10% of the electorate is extraordinarily challenging: for Republicans to win the popular vote by means of Hispanics alone, they’d need to gain a net-30 points among Latino voters, reducing Obama’s 44 point lead to just 14 points.
While there’s nothing wrong with the GOP aiming high for 2016, it’s very difficult to imagine Democrats falling beneath 60% of the Hispanic vote in a competitive national race. Republicans will need to compliment improvements among Hispanics with plenty of gains among other demographic groups.
The Republicans have a Hispanic problem. Certainly, Republicans need to improve with Latino voters, and quickly. The Latino share of the electorate is poised to increase incrementally in every election for the foreseeable future, raising the GOP’s burden with Hispanics each year.
And if Republicans assume that a quick flip flop on immigration reform will produce massive gains among Hispanics, they’ll probably be disappointed.