There are clear signs that the growing Latino population in the United States is creating a seismic shift on the political landscape. As recent analysis of the 2010 Census suggests, Latino voters could play a much more influential role in future elections than in cycles past. And as both political parties struggle to assess the meaning behind population shifts in the past decade, heavy emphasis will be placed on currying favor with the Latino vote. Democratic and Republican strategists alike are mulling how pivotal that vote could be in upcoming political cycles, with the GOP becoming much more public about their plans for Latino outreach than in recent years.
For good reason. While more than 6 out of every 10 Latino voters support Democratic candidates, the nearly 40% that support Republicans still provide a stronger base than African Americans, who stand at a paltry 10% when measuring GOP support. Republicans, long frustrated by the dismal failure of Black outreach and perhaps resigned to no additional gains among Black voters so long as there is an Obama in the White House, now have their sights on Latino voters as a potential electoral offset to the massive edge Democrats enjoy among persons of color.
But, a recently released report by the Pew Hispanic Center is creating a fierce murmur of political calculations and scenarios, with Republicans sensing an opening as key Southern states gained additional Congressional seats in the recent Census. “Hispanic voters are nearly three times more prevalent in states that gained congressional seats and Electoral College votes in the 2010 reapportionment than they are in states that lost seats,” observe Mark Hugo Lopez and Paul Taylor of the Pew Hispanic Center. “Based on averages reflecting congressional gains and losses, 15.2% of the eligible voter population in states that gained seats is Hispanic, compared with just 5.4% of eligible voters in those states that lost seats.”
“With these reapportionment changes, Latinos likely will play a larger role in national politics in the coming decade,” Lopez and Taylor conclude. “Two states that gained seats, Florida and Nevada, have been key swing battlegrounds in recent presidential elections (having voted for the Republican nominee in 2004 and the Democrat in 2008). In both states, Latinos are a growing share of eligible voters.”
The analysis has Republicans giddy with electoral surprise despite the potential for more problems with Latino voters over immigration policy issues – including outright GOP rejection of the DREAM Act during the 2010 lame duck Congressional session. But, as with every issue and event in politics, many Latino voters could have a short memory by 2012, providing an opening for Republicans wide enough to exploit.
And if it won’t budge in 2012, there is always 2016.
Looking at the four years following a second term of President Barack Obama could be the focus of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), a brethren of the Bush political dynasty that has been the source of open speculation regarding a 2016 Presidential run. Co-chairing a gathering of conservative luminaries at this week’s Hispanic Leadership Network inaugural conference in Coral Gables, the Bush push for a new GOP outreach strategy could be open toying with the electoral battlefield, including a close examination of prize states like Texas and Florida. “While the reason for such low numbers is debatable, the way to turn them around is clear: a long-term commitment to outreach and better articulation of our values by conservative leaders,” Bush wrote in a recent Miami Herald opinion piece. “I don’t think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades.”
Bush claims GOP inroads with Latino voters in the future are “inextricably linked to the continued success of the center-right movement.”
Republican focus on the Latino vote, particularly in the South, could be nervous recognition that conventional wisdom predicting massive GOP seat gains through redistricting could be premature. Much of the population shifts to the South are occurring due to an increase in three factors: 1. A steady exodus of African Americans from the North to the South, where there is cheaper housing and a relative spike in job growth; 2. The explosion of the Latino population, particularly in Southern border states; and 3. A marked increase in younger residents and younger families in Southern states. All three demographic groups traditionally lean Democratic during election cycles. Hence, redistricting might prove much more problematic for Republican-led state legislatures than previously thought.