Immigration Reform 2013: The Latino Vote Didn't Make A Difference in 2012, So Should the GOP Reach Out to Them?


More than seven months after the 2012 election, the strategy for Republicans to reverse their election losses going forward still isn’t clear.

I thought it was. I thought it was simply a problem of demographic outreach for the GOP. As I’ve been illustrating for months, white voters broke for Mitt Romney 60%-40% – the most they have ever broken for a GOP candidate since 1988. If this were still the electorate of 20 years ago (where whites made up 87% of voters), Romney would have won 54%-45%. But the non-white vote has more than doubled over the last 20 years from 13% to 28% of the electorate. Of that 28% of non-white voters, less than 5% are voting Republican.

The non-white vote is only going to get bigger. According to Pew, almost 40% of my generation is non-white. Given these trends, this spells doom for the GOP if they don’t start doing better with non-white voters:

The biggest change of any demographic between George W. Bush’s 51% re-election in 2004 and Barack Obama’s 51% re-election of 2012 was in the Latino vote. Fully 44% of Latinos voted Republican in 2004. By 2012, that number dropped to 27%.

This prompted the RNC to launch its Growth and Opportunity Project to emphasize building inroads with minority communities as well as Republican senators joining their Democratic colleagues to form a “Gang of Eight” to work on passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Contrary to staunch conservative critics like Ann Coulter who equate any immigration reform to “amnesty” and believe immigration stances “don’t affect Latino voting trends,” the truth is they have made a difference. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were governors from border states and both advocated comprehensive immigration reform. They won 37% and 44% of the Latino vote, respectively. Bob Dole and Mitt Romney took pretty hard immigration stances along the lines of what hardcore conservatives agree with, and both only won 21% and 27% of the Latino vote, respectively. So no one can tell me that supporting comprehensive immigration reform “doesn’t make a difference.”

But Byron York of the Washington Examiner recently wrote a column that blew my mind. Using Nate Silver’s interactive tool on the New York Times’ website in which one can look at the presidential election results and calculate what would have happened if the racial and ethnic mix of voters had been different, he concluded that, pending a dramatic shift in Latino voter sentiments, having done better with Latinos would not have made Romney a winner:

In 2012, President Obama famously won 71% of the Hispanic vote to Mitt Romney’s 27%. If all other factors remained the same, how large a percentage of the Hispanic vote would Romney have had to win to capture the White House?

What if Romney had won 44% of the Hispanic vote, the high-water mark for Republicans achieved by George W. Bush in 2004? As it turns out, if Romney had hit that Bush mark, he still would have lost, with 240 electoral votes to 298 for Obama.

But what if Romney had been able to make history and attract 50% of Hispanic voters? What then? He still would have been beaten, 283 electoral votes to 255.

What if Romney had been able to do something absolutely astonishing for a Republican and win 60% of the Hispanic vote? He would have lost by the same margin, 283 electoral votes to 255.

But what if Romney had been able to reach a mind-blowing 70% of the Hispanic vote? Surely that would have meant victory, right? No, it wouldn’t. Romney still would have lost, although by the narrowest of electoral margins, 270 to 268. (Under that scenario, Romney would have won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College.)

According to the Times’ calculator, Romney would have had to win 73% of the Hispanic vote to prevail in 2012. Which suggests that Romney, and Republicans, had bigger problems than Hispanic voters.

Indeed, though I must admit, I don’t find that too surprising. As I’ve highlighted in detail before, 75% of Latinos say they prefer a big government which provides more services to a small one providing fewer services according to the Pew Research Center. By contrast, just 41% of the public at large voice support for more government.

Silver himself concludes that if racial voting trends stay the way they are, legalizing 11 million illegal Latino and Asian immigrants will become an “electoral bonanza” for Democrats.

So how do Republicans change that? Well, it won’t happen overnight.

Democrats in major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. have spent years developing relationships within these communities, building trust and carrying their message of government assistance and control over these communities. They’ve basically beat Republicans to these demographics first, and the GOP are just now catching up.

But with the left’s stranglehold on media and entertainment, there is also a large disconnect between perception and reality of both parties. I still come across so many casual voters who believe that Democrats are “the party of the middle class” and the Republicans are “the party of the rich,” despite the fact that most middle class voters (family incomes of $50K and over) voted Republican in 2012. I still come across so many casual voters who believe that Republicans are “extremist and too conservative,” despite the fact that most independents voted Republican in 2012. I still come across so many casual voters who believe that Republicans have a “War on Women/hate women,” despite the fact that most married women (and married men) voted Republican in 2012.

It’s understandable. Watch any episode of Family Guy, The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live and you’d probably think all Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic bigots too.

“But conservatives have Fox News.” Yeah, yeah, the one network that actually tries to be fair and balanced. Here’s the thing though, most people who watch cable news on a regular basis are already high information voters, and most high information voters have already made up their mind.

However, there are plenty of persuadable low information voters who don’t watch cable news very much but do watch local broadcast news to find out what the weather will be in their area, traffic reports and/or sports scores. Any political news they get comes from their local affiliates. Or worse yet, some only get their news from late night comedy TV. Name one “Fox News” version of that.

The fact is outside of The Adam Carolla Show, The Tonight Show or South Park (the only three shows I can think of the actually rip liberals as often as they do conservatives) conservatives have zero supporters on their side in the entertainment industry.

My point is Republicans won’t get any help from non-Fox News media as far as portraying them fairly and accurately, while Democrats have many friends in the media biz.

York goes on to conclude:

Romney was not able to connect with white voters who were so turned off by the campaign that they abandoned the GOP and in many cases stayed away from the polls altogether. Recent reports suggest as many as 5 million white voters simply stayed home on Election Day. If they had voted at the same rate they did in 2004, even with the demographic changes since then, Romney would have won.

I researched this claim as well. Indeed, according to the Census Bureau’s 2012 election survey, the turnout of white voters peaked in 2004 at 67.2%. It dropped by about one point in 2008 and then by another two points by 2012. The black voter turnout in 2012 reached 66.2%, beating their historic turnout rate of 65.2% in 2008 and exceeding the white voter turnout rate of 64.1% for the first time in U.S. history. The overall turnout rate in 2012 was 58.2%, two points lower than the overall turnout rate in 2004 (60.1%).

As Coulter described in her column entitled "If The GOP Are This Stupid, They Deserve To Die:"

The sleeping giant of the last election wasn’t Hispanics; it was elderly black women, terrified of media claims that Republicans were ‘trying to suppress the black vote’ and determined to keep the first African-American president in the White House. … Only 48% of all eligible Hispanic voters went to the polls.

As far as why white voter turnout was 3% less than in 2004, opinion varies. Many believe the Obama campaign’s relentless portrayal of Romney as a wealthy elitist who “was out of touch with the average American” succeeded while many far right conservatives like to believe Romney was “too moderate.” To be fair, we don’t know if white voter turnout was down in swing states where it would’ve mattered vs. solid red or blue states where it wouldn’t have mattered. But the fact that a far right Christian conservative like Bush was able to draw out not only a stronger turnout among white voters (67% in 2004 vs. 64% in 2012) but also a stronger overall turnout of the electorate (60% in 2004 vs. 58% in 2012) than a center right Massachusetts Republican like Romney won’t help other center right Republicans campaigning in blue or swing states.

Either way, elections have consequences. And if there were potential Republican votes that stayed home for whatever reason, then they elected to tolerate another Obama term by default.

But as I’ve been explaining for months, I truly believe the Obama campaign simply outhustled the Romney campaign in the swing states.

The 2012 Obama campaign’s ground game was truly unprecedented. They had databases full of field managers and community organizers who could simply identify all the areas where turnout would be most likely in their favor in every swing state needed to win and dispatched manpower, resources and money to those areas to aggressively register as many of those folks possible and get them to the polls as quickly and as conveniently as possible – starting in 2009, not 2012.

Obama also spent $1 billion on his re-election campaign – shattering the record high his campaign spent in 2008 ($745 million). With that kind of money and resources, they were able to utilize social and digital media to identify persuadable voters online as well as target key demographics with campaign messaging/advertising. The micro-targeting information that Obama For America was able to gather was both impressive and disturbing, as this news video illustrates:

Simply put, Democrats are 30 years ahead of Republicans when it comes to organizing, messaging and voter information gathering.

“But surely the Romney campaign was micro-targeting in the swing states too?” Not nearly on the level the Obama campaign was. Republicans are still stuck in the 20th Century GOTV models of chain mail and land line phone banking. Granted, more GOP voters tend to be elderly than most Democratic voters, but that’s still no excuse to not be utilizing 21st Century technology to GOTV with key demographics.

I believe that the Romney campaign thought that with a crappy economy, high unemployment and voters fearing that they won’t be doing any better than their parents did, enough voters would connect the dots and hold Obama responsible for these results. They were basically banking on the economy and jobs to win. What they didn’t anticipate was a majority of Americans – 53% – still blaming Bush for this economy! Only 38% held Obama responsible for weak economic growth and high unemployment according to the exit polls.

So with the Romney campaign banking on the economy and jobs to win, and most Americans still blaming the old guy for these problems, the GOP were out of gas.

Finally, how do Republicans change this going forward? As cheesy as this might sound, it’s all of the above.

Regarding portrayal in the non-Fox News media, I concede that there isn’t much Republicans can do there (aside from investing in more media balance). I don’t believe aggressively campaigning for African-American, Latino and Asian votes is “pointless” for the GOP either, as Coulter suggests. The fact is demographics are changing and the GOP need to adjust if they want to win elections in the future. Also keep in mind that less than half of all eligible Latino voters even voted last year, way behind whites and blacks. So there’s major growth potential there.

The GOP also need to data mine as efficiently as Democrats are doing. Is it a little scary that the Obama campaign was monitoring TV watching habits, social media activity and spying on other personal behavior to identify persuadable voters? Yeah, it is. But Democrats are doing what it takes to win elections – and their side doesn’t seem to have a problem with it as long as they win.