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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What kind of Christian is Theresa May?

And why aren’t we questioning the vicar’s daughter on how her faith influences her politics?

“It is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things,” Theresa May told Kirsty Young when asked about her faith on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in November 2014. “I think it’s right that we don’t sort of flaunt these things here in British politics but it is a part of me, it’s there, and it obviously helps to frame my thinking.”

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, Rev. Hubert Brasier, May grew up an active Christian in Oxfordshire. She was so involved in parish life that she even taught some Sunday school classes. She goes on in the Desert Island Discs interview to choose the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross sung by a chapel congregation, and recalls being alone in church with her parents, kneeling and singing together.

Despite her intense attachment to local CofE life, Theresa May’s role as a Christian in politics is defined more by her unwillingness to “flaunt” (in her words) her faith.

Perhaps this is partly why, as a Christian, May avoided the scrutiny directed at Lib Dem leader and evangelical Christian Tim Farron over the past week of his stance on homosexuality and abortion.

As Farron wriggled – first saying he didn’t want to make “theological pronouncements” on whether or not being gay is a sin (and then, days later, announcing that it isn’t) – May’s critics scratched their heads about why her voting record on such matters isn’t in the media spotlight.

She has a socially conservative voting record when it comes to such subjects. As the journalist and activist Owen Jones points out, she has voted against equalising the age of consent, repealing Section 28, and gay adoption (twice).

Although her more recent record on gay rights is slightly better than Farron’s – she voted in favour of same-sex marriage throughout the process, and while Farron voted against the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations in 2007 (the legislation obliging bed and breakfast owners and wedding cake makers, etc, not to discriminate against gay people), May simply didn’t attend.

May has also voted for the ban on sex-selective abortions, for reducing the abortion limit to 20 weeks, abstained on three-parent babies, and against legalising assisted suicide.

“Looking at how she’s voted, it’s a slightly socially conservative position,” says Nick Spencer, Research Director of the religion and society think tank Theos. “That matches with her generally slightly more economically conservative, or non-liberal, position. But she’s not taking those views off pages of scripture or a theology textbook. What her Christianity does is orient her just slightly away from economic and social liberalism.”

Spencer has analysed how May’s faith affects her politics in his book called The Mighty and the Almighty: How Political Leaders Do God, published over Easter this year. He found that her brand of Christianity underpinned “the sense of mutual rights and responsibilities, and exercising those responsibilities through practical service”.

May’s father was an Anglo-Catholic, and Spencer points out that this tradition has roots in the Christian socialist tradition in the early 20th century. A world away from the late Victorian Methodism that fellow Christian Margaret Thatcher was raised with. “That brought with it a package of independence, hard work, probity, and economic prudence. They’re the values you’d get from a good old Gladstonian Liberal. Very different from May.”

Spencer believes May’s faith focuses her on a spirit of citizenship and communitarian values – in contrast to Thatcher proselytising the virtues of individualism during her premiership.

Cradle Christian

A big difference between May and Farron’s Christianity is that May is neither a convert nor an evangelical.

“She’s a cradle Christian, it’s deep in her bloodstream,” notes Spencer. “That means you’re very unlikely to find a command-and-control type role there, it’s not as if her faith’s going to point her in a single direction. She’s not a particularly ideological politician – it’s given her a groundwork and foundation on which her politics is built.”

This approach appears to be far more acceptable in the eyes of the public than Farron’s self-described “theological pronouncements”.  May is known to be a very private politician who keeps her personal life, including her ideas about faith, out of the headlines.

“I don’t think she has to show off, or join in, she just does it; she goes to church,” as her former cabinet colleague Cheryl Gillan put it simply to May’s biographer Rosa Prince.

The voters’ view

It’s this kind of Christianity – quiet but present, part of the fabric without imposing itself – that chimes most with British voters.

“In this country, given our history and the nature of the established Church, it's something that people recognise and understand even if they don't do it themselves,” says Katie Harrison, Director of the Faith Research Centre at polling company ComRes. “Whether or not it’s as active as it used to be, lots of people see it as a nice thing to have, and they understand a politician who talks warmly about those things. That’s probably a widely-held view.”

Although church and Sunday school attendance is falling (about 13 per cent say they regularly attend Christian religious services, aside from weddings and funerals), most current surveys of the British population find that about half still identify as Christian. And ComRes polling in January 2017 found that 52 per cent of people think it’s important that UK politicians and policy-makers have a good understanding of religion in the UK.

Perhaps this is why May, when asked by The Sunday Times last year how she makes tough decisions, felt able to mention her Christianity:  “There is something in terms of faith, I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.”

“I don’t think we’re likely to react hysterically or with paranoid fear if our politicians start talking about their faith,” reflects Spencer. “What we don’t like is if they start ‘preaching’ about it.”

“Don’t do God”

So if May can speak about her personal faith, why was the nation so squeamish when Tony Blair did the same thing? Notoriously, the former Labour leader spoke so frankly about his religion when Prime Minister that his spin doctor Alastair Campbell warned: “We don’t do God.” Some of Blair’s critics accuse him of being driven to the Iraq war by his faith.

Although Blair’s faith is treated as the “watershed” of British society no longer finding public displays of religion acceptable, Spencer believes Blair’s problem was an unusual one. Like Farron, he was a convert. He famously converted to Catholicism as an adult (and by doing so after his resignation, side-stepped the question of a Catholic Prime Minister). Farron was baptised at 21. The British public is more comfortable with a leader who is culturally Christian than one who came to religion in their adulthood, who are subjected to more scrutiny.

That’s why Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May can get away with talking about their faith, according to Spencer. “Brown, a much more cultural Presbyterian, used a lot of Biblical language. Cameron talked about it all the time – but he was able to do so because he had a vague, cultural, undogmatic Anglicanism,” he tells me. “And May holds it at arm’s length and talks about being a clergyman’s daughter, in the same way Brown talked about his father’s moral compass.”

This doesn’t stop May’s hard Brexit and non-liberal domestic policy jarring with her Christian values, however. According to Harrison’s polling, Christian voters’ priorities lie in social justice, and tackling poverty at home and overseas – in contrast with the general population’s preoccupations.

Polling from 2015 (pre-Brexit, granted) found that practising Christians stated more concern about social justice (27 per cent) than immigration (14 per cent). When entering No 10, May put herself “squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”. Perhaps it’s time for her to practise what she preaches.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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