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

It's the demography, stupid.

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.

Hispanic delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Photo: Getty

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.