October 26th, 2011
07:34 AM ET

Can the GOP win the Latino vote? Does it matter?

Editor's Note: Shannon O'Neil is the Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she blogs.

By Shannon O'NeilCFR.org

At last week’s Republican presidential debate a member of the audience provocatively reminded the candidates that not all of the Latinos in the United States are illegal, and then asked them, “What is the message from you guys to our Latino community?” Nearly everyone on stage dodged the question, saying that they didn’t have a specific message for Hispanic voters because “they want virtually exactly what everyone else wants” such as a healthy economy and access to affordable health insurance. That may be true, but the exchange raises the broader issue of whether the Republicans can connect with the growing number of American citizens with links back to Latin America.

Finding a good answer to this question is more important than ever. Some 50.5 million people – or one in six Americans – fall under this moniker. In every single state of the union, the Latino population grew over the past decade – including in swing states such Florida, Iowa, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.

What the presidential frontrunners have done quite vocally is attack one another for “soft” immigration stances and lashed out against “illegals”. Herman Cain ratcheted up the rhetoric to an all time high, suggesting electrifying the border fence and killing anyone who tried to cross into the United States from Mexico.  A wave of harsh immigration laws – requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is undocumented, punishing landlords that rent to those without papers, and even checking immigration status at schools — have passed in states including Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama. With the economy in the doldrums and unemployment near historic highs, blaming illegal immigrants for many of America’s ills has gained traction, particularly within the Republican Party.  Though technically not directed at U.S. Latinos, many feel the rising hostility targets them all the same.

While it may be awhile until the full economic effects of these laws are clear (a recent study by the Council of the Americas  suggests that the restrictive laws hurt rather than help local employment), the political impact is more immediate. How the polarization will  play out in the primaries - will it further energize a strongly anti-immigrant conservative base, or mobilize Latino and other pro-immigrant groups (along the lines of the coalition that defeated an English-only bill in Nashville, Tennessee in 2009) - remains to be seen. But in the general national election, it is hard to imagine how it helps its proponents.

At the Western Republican Leadership Conference/CNN debate Rick Santorum was the only Republican presidential candidate who seemed to recognize what other prominent party leaders (such as Karl Rove and Jeb Bush) have been saying now for awhile: the Republicans cannot afford to alienate this huge and growing demographic. They also don’t have to. The Republican Party has the opportunity to connect with Latinos on a number of issues, including family values, faith-based views and an emphasis on entrepreneurship and small businesses. But if Rick Santorum is the only Republican hopeful that understands the importance of reaching out to Latinos, then the party is in trouble.

President Obama won a whopping 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, and preliminary counts suggest that this demographic will only be more important this time around. History suggests that minorities, while often punching below their electoral weight, tend to turn out for national presidential (as opposed to midterm) elections. In 2012, they will represent over a third of the voting age population — an all time high.  To compete, the Republicans have to come up with a better answer, or they risk losing America’s fastest growing electorate.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Shannon O'Neil.

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    GOP solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Unemployed, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Employed, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military.

    So the answer is NO!!!!!!!!!!

    October 26, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
    • Howard

      The Latinos are much too smart to fall for all the
      coming from the deceptive barack obama ...
      who would say, or do anything to get reelected !!!

      October 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      How did you get to be so stupid?

      October 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  2. RAJ

    Few brains have damaging effects. Brain are damaged by identifying with some class or race of people and getting prejudiced against other class or race of people. Herman Brain is damaged by identifying with own community and having hatred, prejudiced againt Latino community with wrong belief that Latino community is taking away jobs from his own community.

    October 26, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply
  3. The Balmer Liberal

    The Cain "Campaign" is a snake-oil medicine show that has captured the nation's attention for the time being. Look at the smile at the end of his "blowing smoke" ad. Its the smile of the charlatan who knows he has the rube hooked and in the boat. As things proceed Cain will wither under the spotlight.


    October 26, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    The Lation community with over 50 million voters can't be ignored. It's a vibrant bunch and many of them still believe in the American dream.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Joel Wischkaemper

      50 MILLION Hispanics. You might want to know we are moving all those folks who used welfare to have their children are going to have to pay for it themselves in the near future. That might change plans, but in the meantime, there are only 16 million Hispanic votes, most of the increase is coming from illegal aliens, and the LEGAL Hispanic number is 9% of the population.

      It would really be smart to tell the truth on this issue.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
      • ushj

        wait joel... are they living on welfare? or taking american jobs? i've heard the conservatives claim both... i think they should pick one and stick to it...

        October 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
      • Joe

        Troll Alert Troll Alert Troll Alert take cover now or you will be spewed on by toxic fox news talking points.

        October 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
      • wigglwagon

        "wait joel... are they living on welfare? or taking american jobs? i've heard the conservatives claim both... i think they should pick one and stick to it..."

        Wake up sushi, they take jobs and supplement that income with welfare. DUH!!! That is how they buy the big houses and new vehicles.

        BTW, you should have said conservatives and blue collar Democrats.

        October 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  5. Dan5404

    Yes, they can win the Latino vote by putting them in compounds surrounded by electrified fences and telling them the two conditions for getting out: 1, vote Republican 2. work for a GOP "job creator" for minimum wage with no health care plan.

    October 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  6. ushj

    i could be wrong... but haven't the white supremacy groups/kkk been claiming forever that illegals and non-whites are the root of all evil and taking all of the american jobs away from white americans? please explain to me how the GOP responses and positions aren't subtly or even overtly racist...

    October 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  7. Politically awake in VA

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Don't make me laugh! Anyone with half a brain knows the GOP is only for the GREAT WHITE WAY, which does not include anyone of color. Maybe they should be Mormons, since it is in their doctrine that people with color to their skin are cursed! OPPS they might have taken that out now. 😉

    October 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  8. Irma

    GOP – do not depair. There are plenty of coconut Hispanics out there who will vote for you. You know the ones, brown on the outside....white on the inside.... Just look at Cain, he's the biggest coconut of them all..and he ain't even Hispanic!

    October 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  9. W.G.

    That´s the problem with the republicans and a lot of Americans , they view all Latinos as being illegals .
    The republican party is out of touch with them and most of America . It´s only the most ignorant
    of Latinos that would side with the UN-moralistic far right . They have lost all legitmacy and republicans
    are anti American .

    October 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  10. Jilli

    GPS: Can the GOP win the Latino vote?

    BWWAAAHAHHHHHHH!!!! Are you kidding me? Brown people are public enemy number 1 for the gop. Oh, wait, maybe they're public enemy number 3 – number 1 = Obama, number 2 = teachers, firefighters and police – public employees in general, and then hispanics. Two and three may be a tie.

    I'd say the gop could count on the hispanic vote right around the time the gop wins the LGBT vote.

    October 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      George W. Bush got 50 percent of the Latino vote.

      Where were you? Never mind. Don't answer that.

      Answer this: Where are the jobs?

      October 27, 2011 at 11:47 am | Reply
  11. Me

    I guess I'd better tell my husband and kids to turn in their college degrees and go back to "where they came from!" Of course, that will only get them as far south as Tucson but they're Hispanic so they must be illegal, right?

    October 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  12. Dee

    Absolutely not they need to start respecting the Latino community they are not aliens they are human beings. If it wasn't for these people a lot of the vegetables and other things that we take for granted are because of the hard work of this community. Some of us think that we are too good to do this type of work.

    I would not take these people for granted one thing they are a unified class who are trying to better themselves, they just want a fair shake of the American dream just like our ancestors.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  13. Senora Gringa

    Silly GOPers. They'll eat Mexican food never considering how it got here. They'll vacation in San Francisco but never ponder the name. They'll cheer on QBs Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez but not stop to realize they're Hispanic. Cameron Diaz is a huge star but all they see are her blue eyes and blonde hair.

    October 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      George W. Bush got 50 percent of the Latino vote. They understand jobs versus no jobs.

      Where are the jobs?

      October 27, 2011 at 11:46 am | Reply
  14. If I had a penny for every stupid Republican

    The American Dream is alive and well in the Latino community. Once they dry of their backs and obtain a fake green card and make it to the nearest Home Depot parking lot... Hola Hola Hola

    October 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  15. emmydogg

    so you get Hispanic votes by treating all Hispanics like criminals. I don't see it

    October 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      No. You get Latino votes by keeping them safe from the criminal element coming over our border, creating real private sector jobs and giving them an equal opportunity to seize a piece of the American dream for themselves.

      If you try to convince them they're all victims while you're starving them out of making a living, they'll spit in your face.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply

    i thank the GOP party are on thair way out. i don't no what is on thair minds just set there and do nother

    October 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
    • excitizen

      Did you graduate the 3rd grade? You are a perfect example of why the school systems need to be overhauled.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
      • Occupado

        Claude doesn't make much sense.

        October 27, 2011 at 11:40 am |

    well print it again.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply

    i dont no why you tell me that i have all ready said that are you a GOP voter

    October 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    and yes i thank GOP can win the latino vots why not

    October 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • NorthVanCan

      there just as dumb.

      October 27, 2011 at 9:51 am | Reply
      • Occupado

        As what, you?

        October 27, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  20. excitizen

    The GOP has already alienated the latinos, blacks, muslims, poor, working class, unions, police, firefighters, teachers, Mormons and every religion that doesn’t practice their form of bible beating, fear mongering, break all the rules and commandments, holier than thou form of twisted christianity. What does that leave them with? 1% PERIOD. Way to go GOP you have the Donald Trumps of the world backing your party. They may have money, but not one ounce of ethics, decency, honesty, compassion or fairness in the bunch. Hope you realize that unless you fall into that 1% category, you are just being used as a $tupid puppet to get them elected; they could care less if you live or die after that.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  21. PaulC1958

    Some of the comments I read here cause me to fear H.L. Mencken accurately described the American media and politicians today when he said, “…it is in the nature of the human species to reject what is true but unpleasant and to embrace what is obviously false but comforting.” If we allow our political leaders from both political parties to accept the comfortable lie that continued massive immigration is a good thing, then the whole country will also reap the difficult and unpleasant consequences.

    Massive immigration, legal and illegal, is fueling exponential US population growth (80+/-) resulted and continues to result from immigrants and the children of immigrants. In 1964 (the year Ted Kennedy successfully changed immigration law that opened up massive immigration) US population was 191.9 million people. The Census Bureau's middle projection for US population in 2050 is 439 million people; that is an increase of 248 million people in 86 year. The rate of growth is increasing; US population in 2010 was 312 million and by 2050 the US will add another 137 million people in 40 years. The US population growth is the fastest in the industralized world.

    When one looks at the numbers, the media and politician's concentration on race, immigrant dreams, who will do certain jobs, etc., instead of the long term impact immigration, be it legal or illegal,will have on the lives American citizen over the next 50 to 100 years is to do as H.L. Mencken describes.

    October 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  22. NorthVanCan

    of course the GOP can win latino votes. there just as stupid as they are.

    October 27, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • Occupado

      Speaking of stupid, do you know the difference between "they're', "there" and "their"?

      Well, do you?

      October 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  23. Occupado

    Of course the GOP can win Latino votes. Latinos understand jobs versus no jobs.

    What do you think, they're dumb, Democrat and dependent?

    October 27, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
  24. JOE

    "Welfare states, illegal immigrants, government handouts," etc etc. So what do you call those Southern American Welfare States that all benefited from four hundred years of free slave labor? The houses that your great great grandparents lived in, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the everyday services they received from the towns in which they lived were all manufactured by African-American slaves who labored in the fields for 20 hour shifts each day. Illegals? Welfare states? Government handouts? Please, just look at your history before you start pointing fingers and accusing people of being illegal or of living off government handouts.

    October 28, 2011 at 10:22 am | Reply
    • Occupado

      I looked up the street. I looked down the street. I drove to the center of town. None of the houses here were built by slaves. As a matter of fact, many of the houses in this town are owned by people who are probably related to former slaves. They have families, 401-k's, and they consider themselves lucky to be living here in America - despite this economic turndown. They wouldn't have it any other way. Neither would we.

      You have no idea what you're talking about, Joe.

      October 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply

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