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Why the growing Hispanic electorate could lock the Republicans out of the White House forever

It's the demography, stupid.

Delegate Antonia Gonzalez at the Democratic National Convention
Hispanic delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Photo: Getty

Back in August, former Florida governor Jeb Bush issued a frank warning to the Republican party:

"Our demographics are changing, and we have to change. Not necessarily our core beliefs, but the tone of our message and the intensity of it for sure"

"There has to be a concerted effort to reach out to a much broader audience than we do today"

With the Hispanic community passing the 50 million mark in 2010, the shifting complexion of America’s electorate heralds an epochal change too monumental to ignore. As the US’s fastest growing minority, the number of registered Latino voters has doubled to 11 million since 1994, whilst the white share of the vote has dropped steadily by an average of 3 per cent in each election since 1992

As Latinos become a more decisive force in America’s electoral future, one thing is sure to ruffle the feathers of all Republicans: the vast majority are voting Obama.

In the 2008 election, Obama won roughly 68 per cent of the Hispanic vote. This proved crucial in Obama edging victory in various bellwether states as Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado all turned blue, the latter for the first time since 1992.

These trends show no sign of reversing either. According to a impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll conducted in September, Obama is currently predicted to take 61 per cent of the Hispanic vote in key battleground states and 73 per cent of the national share.

Romney, on the other hand, is estimated to have the support of just 21 per cent of the Latino community, falling far short of his campaign target of 38 per cent. The yawning gulf between the two candidates presents an all-but-impossible obstacle for the former Massachusetts governor to surmount, and his rhetoric on the campaign trail has done him no favours.

Through various appeals to the far-right during the Republican primaries, Romney dealt a considerable blow to his standing among the Hispanic community. Among them was a promise to veto the DREAM act: a piece of legislation that provides a path to citizenship for hispanic youths brought into the US illegally as children. He also voiced his opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and proposed an unrealistic ‘self-deportation’ plan as a solution to the US immigration issue.

If these policy promises hadn’t send out a negative message to Latinos, the lexicon certainly did. His systematic use of the words ‘illegals’ and ‘aliens’ to describe unlawful immigrants reduced a deeply complex political issue to pejorative labelling, reflecting a certain contempt that earned him no friends in the Hispanic community.

Despite backpedaling somewhat on his opposition to the DREAM act, it’s simply a matter of too little, too late.  Wednesday’s debate didn’t help him either, as the topic of immigration was all but absent from the schedule, denying Romney invaluable airtime to project a more palatable message to alienated Latinos.

Overall though, to focus solely on this year’s election is to miss the point. Since Bush, the Republican party has upheld a tough stance toward undocumented immigrants, usually accompanied by harsh rhetoric that has the capacity to dent the GOP’s image far beyond this election.

To make matters worse, a Pew Hispanic Centre Poll revealed earlier this year that the challenges facing the Republican party extend far beyond issues of immigration to more profound structural trends.

According to the poll, 75 per cent of Latinos said they favoured bigger government, in stark contrast to the 41 per cent of the general US public that shared the same view. The study also showed that 30 per cent of Latino adults claimed to hold liberal views, 9 per cent higher than the overall population. Hispanic voters are also younger voters of a generation more likely to vote Democrat.

To put it bluntly, the forecast looks bleak for the GOP. The popularity enjoyed by the Republicans under Bush has eroded. Since he claimed 44 per cent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, a staunch anti-immigration agenda has seen this share plummet to 31 per cent under McCain in 2008, right down to a projected 25 per cent for Romney.

For the Democrats, the ballooning support among the growing Latino community could be as crucial as the New Deal, which ushered in a wave of Democratic dominance following the Great Depression.

For the Republicans, the seismic shift in the complexion of the US electorate could put the presidency well out of reach for the foreseeable future.

No longer can the White House be won without the Hispanic vote, and the GOP needs to wise up. With their popularity in terminal decline among the next generation of Latinos, the Republican party must tame the anachronism of its far-right to embrace a model of progressivm more in tune with the times we live in.

Otherwise, they’ll find themselves squarely on the wrong side of history.