Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and a critical swing vote in national elections. There are now more Hispanic U.S. residents than African-Americans, and this group's projected growth rate greatly exceeds native-born blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Although both political parties will make substantial outreach efforts to Hispanics, the latest data show that a significant political advantage resides with the Democrats.
The Hispanic community has accounted for over one-half of U.S. population growth over the past decade. In 2008, there were 19.5 million adult Hispanics who were eligible to vote; this year, there will be 21.5 million.
Although Hispanic population growth is strong, political participation by this community lags far behind. For example, only approximately 60% of Hispanic citizen adults are registered to vote, compared to 70% of blacks and 74% of non-Hispanic whites.
Low political participation by Hispanics is attributable to several factors. Many first-generation immigrants have not attained citizenship and thus voter eligibility. For many who achieve citizenship, the custom of political participation does not immediately take hold.
About 70% of all native-born citizens are registered to vote, whereas for naturalised citizens that proportion drops to 54%. Moreover, many Hispanics comprise a portion of the economic underclass, the group least likely to participate politically, regardless of ethnicity.
However, Hispanic voting is on a sharp upward trajectory. According to census data, in 2004, there were 7.6 million Latino voters. In 2008, that number rose to 9.75 million, an increase of 28.4%.
The surging Hispanic population is a serious dilemma for the Republican Party, which is perceived by many in that community as the anti-immigrant party. A recent Pew national poll of Hispanics showed that only 14% would vote for the Republican nominee for president over President Barack Obama. In that same poll, 60% said that the Democratic Party is most likely to help Hispanics 'achieve the American dream', whereas only 10% chose the Republicans.
Another problem for the Republicans this year is that Hispanics comprise sizeable portions of the electorate in several swing states, including New Mexico (42.5%), Florida (19.2%), Nevada (17.3%), and Colorado (13.4%).
The leading candidate for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, has adopted a harsh position on illegal immigration - one that plays well with the overwhelmingly conservative voter base in the party's presidential primaries and caucuses, but that undermines his appeal among Latinos.
Yet it is not a given that Latinos vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. With skilled outreach and an appealing message, some Republicans have fared relatively well with these voters. For example, former President George W. Bush promoted a 'path to citizenship' initiative to help many of the nation's approximately 13 million illegal immigrants regularize their status, rejecting the harshly pro-deportation stance of many conservatives. As a result, Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
Halting the pro-Democratic party trend among Hispanics would require altering the Republican stand on immigration issues, emphasizing economic opportunity and growth policies, and savvy use of social conservative issues. Indeed, this is possible, but not before this November's election, when between two-thirds and three-quarters of Hispanic voters will likely back Democrats.
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