The Magazine

Hispanic Panic

Back to square uno para el GOP.

Nov 24, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 10 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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But immigration is hardly the only factor driving Latinos away from Republicans. Gimpel observes that Hispanic immigrants tend to settle in cities and urban areas that are heavily Democratic. ("Party building is territorial.") He also makes a broader point: As long as the steady inflow of Hispanics to the United States consists predominantly of low-income, low-education immigrants, the GOP will have a difficult time making serious gains among Hispanic voters. As Latinos climb the economic ladder, they are more likely to support Republicans. "But that takes a while," says Gimpel.

The Census Bureau estimates that Hispanics were responsible for about half of America's population growth between 2000 and 2006. During that period, the Hispanic population grew by roughly 24.3 percent, while the total U.S. population grew by only 6.1 percent. In 2007, U.S. Hispanics "had a median age of 27.6, compared with the population as a whole at 36.6. Almost 34 percent of the Hispanic population was younger than 18, compared with 25 percent of the total population." The Census Bureau has projected that Hispanics' share of the total population will grow from 15.5 percent in 2010 to 24.4 percent in 2050.

Of course, demographic forecasts are often unreliable, and there is no guarantee that Hispanic population growth will continue at its current pace. As economists Gordon Hanson and Craig McIntosh of the University of California, San Diego, have written,

population growth in Mexico has decreased dramatically. Indeed, the 1970 to 2000 decline in fertility in Mexico is one of the fastest ever recorded. Will slowing population growth contribute to slower increases in emigration rates in the future? Absent network effects (and holding labor demand constant), the answer would appear to be yes.

For "network effects," think reunification of extended families--a process that means growth here "may continue to accelerate for some time, even as population growth in the two countries continues to converge."

Hispanics are now fueling population growth in unlikely places, such as Iowa. "In some parts of Iowa, where the white population is shrinking, Hispanics are supplying all the growth," the Muscatine Journal reported in August, noting that Hispanic women have a higher fertility rate and that "young white Iowans are moving out of the state right when they're about ready to start families."

The U.S. Latino community is quite heterogeneous, and it would be misleading to portray "the Hispanic vote" as a monolith. In his recent book on immigration, British journalist and former World Trade Organization adviser Philippe Legrain stressed that "successive generations are blending in with the rest of U.S. society." According to data cited by Legrain, "whereas only 8 percent of foreign-born Latinos marry non-Latinos, 32 percent of second generation and 57 percent of third-generation Latinos marry outside their ethnic group."

Indeed, intermarriage is making "Hispanic" a slippery label. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, for example, is married to a Mexican-American woman. Should their three children be counted as Hispanics?

Over time, as Latinos become more assimilated and see their incomes rise, they may look more favorably on the Republicans. But the constant influx of low-skilled Hispanic immigrants benefits the Democrats, says Gimpel, which means the GOP is fighting an uphill battle. And the self-inflicted wounds of the immigration debate have not yet healed. Until they do, Diaz-Balart says the Republicans "are really in bad shape."

Duncan Currie is managing editor of The American.