Over the weekend, Texas Republican representative Lamar Smith penned an interesting column for the Washington Post arguing that the GOP's haul among Hispanic voters was "historically robust." Is this conclusion correct? If so, what does it mean, about both 2010 and the future of the Republican party?
I think Smith's conclusion here is sound, and the 2010 midterm election indicated that, increasingly, both political parties have to forge a multi-ethnic/multi-racial voting coalition if they hope to acquire the majority. In my opinion, this is a more challenging task than either liberals or conservatives have recognized.
To begin, let's look at the parties' performances among Hispanic voters in the nationwide House ballot going back to 1994. The following chart tracks the percentage of Hispanic voters in the electorate, how each party did with them, and a final column that I call "Net Dem Haul." That's the key line, for it asks how many points did the Democrats margin of victory among Hispanic voters contribute to their national margin. So, for instance in 2010, 8 percent of the electorate was Hispanic, and the Democrats won Hispanic voters by 22 percent; thus, the "Net Dem Haul" was 8 percent X 22 percent = 1.8 percent. That means that the Democrats haul among the Hispanic vote closed the Democrats' nationwide margin of defeat by 1.8 points.
As we can see, Smith's point is valid. The GOP's share among Hispanic voters in the nationwide House ballot was the best it has been since 2004, and the Democratic haul from the Hispanic vote was also substantially reduced relative to 2008 or 2006. Yet all is not sweetness and light for the GOP. Notice that the Democratic margin of victory in 2010 among Hispanics was about the same as it was in 1994, yet the Democratic haul was greater this year than in 1994. This is because Hispanics have more than doubled as a share of the popular vote. Hold the margin of victory constant and double the size of the bloc, and the Democrats won a larger net haul simply because of population changes.
Demographic projections are not the stuff of destiny, but they point pretty conclusively to the expectation that the Hispanic share of the electorate will grow over time. If that happens, then the net Democratic haul will increase, even if the Republicans remain comfortably in that 30-40 percent share of the electorate. This is why it is important for Republicans and conservatives to craft a compelling message that puts more Hispanic voters in play.
This is good news for Democrats over the long run, but liberal analysts -- like those who promote the enduring Democratic majority thesis -- tend to make too much of this. For starters, they regularly make a category error -- lumping all racial and ethnic minorities into a "non-white" category. The problem with this is that Hispanics differ in important respects from African-Americans, whose voting patterns tend not to shift with the political winds, and almost always favor the Democrats by 90-10. As you can see, the GOP's margin among Hispanics in the House has ranged from 26 percent to 44 percent, so this voting bloc is in play in a way that the African-American vote simply is not. I would say that there is essentially no hope that the GOP will have a major breakthrough with the African-American vote, barring some unforeseen and significant circumstance, but on the other hand a carefully crafted message to Hispanic voters could all but neutralize the Democratic advantage with this bloc, as happened in 2004.
Democrats have another problem, which is that as their hauls among Hispanics has increased, they are doing much worse with white voters. The following chart replicates the Hispanic chart, only this time for white voters. Also, “Net Dem Haul” has become “Net GOP Haul” because Republicans have been regularly winning the white for for some time now.