By MAX REINHARDT
The day after President Barack Obama trounced Mitt Romney at the ballot box, the entire Republican Party apparatus went into full-blown Hispanic Panic Mode. Countless columnists and consultants hammered away at their keyboards and on talk radio pondering ways to bring Hispanics into the Republican fold.
The data shows that their panic was justified. According to an analysis of November’s exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Research Center, Romney only received 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Obama’s 71 percent. Moreover, two percent of the projected increase of all non-white voters will come from Hispanics in the 2016 cycle. Obviously, Romney’s call for “self-deportation” did not sit well with a growing segment of the electorate.
Now, the greenhorns climbing the Party ladder, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are rushing to build bridges with Democrats to tackle immigration reform in an effort to please Hispanics. The prevailing thought among Republican strategists seems to be that tackling immigration will somehow win the hearts and minds of Hispanics. However, before Republicans embark on this experiment in policy divergence, they should take a look at the Pew Hispanic Research Center’s latest survey of Hispanics’ political preferences. There are many things to consider.
First, legalizing the 11.1 million illegal immigrants living in this country probably will not result in a sea change in the Hispanic electorate. In fact, it might be counterproductive to the G.O.P.’s electoral ambitions. According to the Pew study, 32 percent of Hispanics identify as conservatives, compared to 30 percent who identify as liberals. However, when it comes to the role of government, 75 percent of Hispanics say they are in favor of “bigger government and more services,” while only 19 percent say they favor “smaller government and fewer services.”
Second, historically speaking, new immigrants tend to favor the Democratic Party. Among first generation Hispanic immigrants, 81 percent say they favor bigger government, while only 12 percent support smaller government. It is questionable to assume that recently legalized immigrants will vote for the conservative party.
Third, Hispanics are generally not single-issue voters. It is true that Hispanics tend to hold a socially conservative view on morality, in some respects. While 51 percent are opposed to legal abortion, 59 percent believe that homosexuality should be accepted. Some Republicans seem to believe that anti-abortion Hispanics would dart across the aisle in droves to join the G.O.P. if they were granted amnesty. This facile argument only looks at one piece of the data, but it ignores the mountain of evidence against it.
The numbers show that Hispanics’ opinions are generally not in alignment with the Republican Party. In the short term, comprehensive immigration reform will not solve the party’s demographics problem. History shows that amnesty does not equal votes for Republicans.
Even in 1988, after Ronald Reagan granted amnesty for three million illegal immigrants, the Republican candidate, his vice president George H. W. Bush, only won 30 percent of the Hispanic vote.
There is one positive conclusion that may be drawn. As Hispanic immigrant families plant their roots in America, they become more conservative over time. While only 12 percent of first generation immigrants support smaller government, that number jumps to 22 percent by the second generation and 36 percent by the third, according to the Pew study. Placing a greater emphasis on economic growth and upward mobility may be the best shot that Republicans have at winning over the Hispanic electorate.
Max Reinhardt is the news and issues chair and secretary of the UMW College Republicans.