The center-left American Prospect publishes an analysis and review of a new Yale University book “Latino America” by two scholars (Baretto and Segura) documenting ‘the great party switch.’ They are referring to the fact that, back when I was a girl, Republicans could win the White House as often as Democrats, but were shut out of Congressional majorities. Now Republicans control both houses of Congress, but have a harder time assembling a national majority.
Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, these authors argue, changed American politics by cementing the GOP as the party of white evangelicals. But in so doing, they did not calculate that they would make national victories less likely by reducing the GOP appeal to other voters. (This conventional analysis is the intellectual basis of the great and failed “truce strategy” among the GOP).
The demographic shift has famously intensified the GOP’s problems in a higher turnout national election. Since 1992, the electorate has gone from 13 percent to 28 percent nonwhite. Latinos represent the bulk of these new Americans, and they remain a swing vote: “The large majority of Latinos have traditionally supported the Democratic party and its candidates. But that support has varied considerably from election to election. . . a majority of Latinos have voted for a Republican candidate at least once.”
Barreto and Segura are convinced social issues have no appeal to Latino voters, but so long as Republican candidates operate under the truce handcuffs, that is something we can’t know. It is probably not a coincidence that the last Republican elected president, who was elected by “values voters” in 2004, also won 40 percent of the Latino vote.
By contrast, “in 2012, only 23 percent of Latinos voted for Mitt Romney.” His economic message did not resonate, his words on immigration were harsh, and—here is something the American Prospect doesn’t point out—Romney also never campaigned on social issues in the general election.
Democrats may alienate white voters so strongly the GOP can win in 2016—and there are signs of this trend. But new strategies for outreach to Latinos are key in the long-run.