April 19, 2011

JUST LIKE YOU:

The Hispanic Century?: A comprehensive look at voter behavior and demographics reveals a momentous prospect: A Hispanic electorate that votes en masse, allies itself with one political party and changes America’s political balance for decades. (Norman Nie, 4/18/11, Miller-McCune)

We examined Hispanic turnout and partisanship in midterm elections — that is, the elections where turnout isn’t significantly affected by charismatic presidential candidates — from 1978 to 2006 by collecting and matching data from several sources. First, we combined more than 150 academic and high-quality commercial public opinion surveys, each of which employed a nationally representative sample of at least 1,000 respondents. In addition to this combined dataset, we added voter turnout data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, creating what we believe is the most comprehensive demographic and voting behavior dataset ever compiled for midterm elections. The data allowed us to examine both overall trends and individual behavior. (Individual level data is not yet publicly available for the 2010 midterm election, but aggregate results are considered here.)

On the surface, the information we gathered supports some common political wisdom: A vast buildup of potential Hispanic voters, primarily composed of immigrant citizens and young U.S.-born Hispanics, has generally tended to favor Democrats but turned out to vote at far lower levels than whites or African Americans during the last three decades.

Our dataset, however, shows that the common wisdom misses a potentially momentous prospect.

Once we accounted for demographic differences known to affect turnout, we found that Hispanics actually vote at rates very similar to those of whites and blacks. In other words, much of the explanation for the low turnout rates for Hispanics is not related to being Hispanic but to Hispanics being younger and having less education on average than whites or blacks.

Similarly, we found that in terms of both party identification and the strength of that partisanship, the differences between whites and Hispanics disappears when individual-level characteristics such as age and education are taken into account. In short, the data suggest that Hispanics have not been genuinely incorporated into the party system or made anything like a deep commitment to either party.

But that incorporation and commitment may come soon.

The large influx of Hispanic immigrants into the United States over the past four and a half decades resembles — in terms of magnitude and proportion — the great immigration wave from southern and eastern Europe that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like today’s Hispanic population, a large body of research shows, these earlier immigrants possessed limited experience with U.S. politics and received few partisan cues from their parents. The Democratic Party captured these voters because the party supported policies that addressed their central concern — the economic turmoil of the Great Depression — while the GOP took a hands-off approach. The resulting Democratic affiliation reorganized American politics for the next 30 years.

Vote-eligible Hispanic immigrants and their U.S.-born children today appear to have a similar lack of political experience and affiliation. In a partisan sense, they are legitimately up for grabs — and consequently sit in a strategic and increasingly important position in American politics.

As their average education level, income, age and familiarity with the political process increase over time, Hispanics can be expected to enter the active electorate in far higher numbers than they have to date. Current conditions — the worst economic dislocation since the Great Depression combined with fierce controversy over an issue of central concern to Hispanics, immigration — provide the salient issues that could move Hispanics to connect deeply with one party or the other. The party that best handles those issues of high importance to Hispanics, our research strongly suggests, could be the beneficiary of a shift in turnout and partisan attachment that alters the balance of political power in America not just for the next presidential or midterm election but for decades.

Because Hispanic allegiance to both parties is weak, the question remains: What can Republicans or Democrats do to seal the Hispanic political deal? [...]

How the immigration issue is resolved and how undocumented immigrants are treated in what could be a long-term economic downturn, are precisely the kind of crosscutting, highly salient issues from which — a long line of political science research shows — strong and long-lasting party ties are made.

When a country has more than 6.6 million families with a head of household and/or spouse who migrated without authorization, immigration policy is, as a matter of factual reality, as much about keeping families together as it is about border control. Many in the Republican Party repudiated the comprehensive immigration reform measures championed by President George W. Bush during his term in office and have instead adopted a strong stance against undocumented immigrants, most notable of which was Arizona’s SB 1070, a law that, among its many controversial facets, requires individuals to prove legal residence in the U.S. on the request of local and state authorities.

Such policies make the Hispanic community wary of the GOP for now. And given the recent ascendance of hard-line, anti-immigration factions within the party, a shift to more immigrant-friendly positions is by no means clear. But the emergence of high-profile Hispanic Republicans in positions of real political prominence could well steer the GOP back toward Bush-style immigration reform and help make Hispanics comfortable with the Republican Party again.


Run, Jeb, run.


Posted by at April 19, 2011 6:25 AM
  

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