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

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.