A segment of the anti-immigration right clings to the notion that citizenship should not be extended to those who came here illegally, in part because they are automatic Democratic voters. We’ve argued that such fatalism is unwarranted and goes hand in hand with a refusal to update the GOP agenda. The 2014 election bears that out to a degree.
In the national vote for the House, Republicans got 36 percent of the Hispanic vote, up from the 27 percent Mitt Romney got in 2012. Republicans did even better among Hispanic male voters (41 percent). In the midterms, the Hispanic vote (8 percent of the electorate) was about what it was in 2012 (10 percent). Moreover, like every other group, Hispanics rank the economy as most important and put immigration much further down the list. Pew observes, “About half (49%) of Latino voters called [the economy] the most important issue facing the country, according to the national exit poll. Health care (24%) and illegal immigration (16%) followed.”
In some individual races, the GOP did even better. Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote while Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) took 48 percent. Likewise, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (38 percent) and Georgia Sen.-elect David Perdue (42 percent) did better than the party as a whole. (The breakdown for Hispanic voters is not available in the exit polls in many races, either because they were not thought to be competitive or because there are too few Hispanics to sample accurately.)
In sum, when Republicans don’t antagonize voters with talk about “self-deportation,” strong GOP candidates can get a substantial chunk of the Hispanic vote. There is no reason for GOP defeatism, then. There is, however, room to grow.
Resolving immigration is one way to boost appeal, but so is recruiting more diverse candidates. In reelection bids Republican Govs. Susana Martinez (N.M.) and Brian Sandoval (Nev.) got 57 percent and more than 70 percent, respectively, from their states’ voters. West Virginia elected its first congressman of Hispanic origin, Alex Mooney.
But eligible Hispanic voters are also on average younger than whites, and fewer have bachelor’s degrees (17% vs. 33% for whites). It therefore stands to reason that to the extent Republicans can capture millennials’ discontent with Democrats and devise an agenda based on upward mobility and education reform, they will improve their standing with Hispanics.
The GOP’s ceiling with Hispanic voters may be higher than thought after Romney’s debacle. So, yes, by all means — Republicans should show up. But when they arrive in Hispanic communities and when they talk to Hispanic voters, they better have a positive message that is something other than simply cut government, reduce taxes and deport illegals. That message gets you only 27 percent of the Hispanic electorate.