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Hispanic Population Continues to Grow and So Do Democratic Chances

The Washington Post and other papers today carried a story, based on a Census Bureau report, revealing that Hispanics are now America's largest minority group and have accounted for half of the nation's population growth between 2000 and 2002. The fact that the Hispanic population is growing like topsy is basically good news for Democrats, due to Hispanics' well-know proclivity for voting Democratic due to a combination of economic and anti-discrimination motivations.

Nor has that changed in recent years, contrary to Republican claims and some press reports. Here are some data from the most recent large-scale, nonpartisan poll of Hispanic attitudes, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to the survey, registered Latino voters are 49 percent Democratic, just 20 percent Republican and 19 percent independent. And if independents who "lean" to one party or another are classified with that party, the figures become 56 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 7 percent independent. Thus, either way, the Democrats have a huge lead on party identification (and the only subgroup of Hispanics where that is not true are Cuban-Americans, who are declining as a proportion of the Hispanic population). Moreover, according to these data, Hispanics are less likely, not more likely, to be independents than either whites or blacks.

And who do they think has more concern for Latinos in the US? Among the 55 percent of Latinos who see a difference between the parties on this, there is a more than 4:1 (45 to 10 percent) break in favor of the Democrats as the more concerned party.

The specific issue of the economy also evokes strong pro-Democratic sentiment. By 2:1 (53 to 27 percent), they favor the Democrats as the party better able to deal with the issue.

What about the idea that Hispanics are conservative on social issues, which some argue makes them politically and potentially available to the Republicans. According to the survey data, Latinos are, in fact, more conservative than whites on social issues like divorce, homosexuality, abortion and extra-marital sex. But, they’re also not much more socially conservative than blacks (in fact, less so on some issues). So are blacks also up for grabs politically because they hold some socially conservative views? No, they’re not and the same argument should be viewed with suspicion when applied to Hispanics.

The argument becomes especially implausible in light of additional data from the survey which show Latino voters only half as likely as white voters to mention moral values and abortion as voting issues. Indeed, by a wide margin, Latinos’ top three voting issues are education, the economy and Social Security, three issues that have little to do with social conservatism. Moreover, Latinos, in contrast to both whites and blacks, declare themselves willing to pay higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services (55 percent), rather than a pay lower taxes for a smaller government with fewer services (38 percent). So, Latinos not only lean strongly Democratic, they say they’re even willing to pay for the services they expect Democrats in government to provide!

Given all this, perhaps it should come as no suprise that Hispanics stuck with the Democrats in the 2002 election, despite considerable hype from the Republicans about how they're making great headway with Hispanics.

For example, in California, the one state where we do have exit poll data from 2002, Democrat Gray Davis beat Republican Bill Simon in the gubernatorial race by 65 to 24 percent. That 24 percent vote for the Republican was essentially identical with the vote received by Republican Dan Lundgren in the 1998 California gubernatorial contest, according to exit polls for that year. In terms of the national vote for Congress, a Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner (GQR) post-election poll indicated that Hispanics supported the Democrats this year by 62 to 38 percent. These figures are also nearly identical with 1998 exit poll figures, which showed 63 to 37 percent Democratic support for Congress among Hispanics in that year.

Political scientist James Gimpel confirms that Hispanic voting patterns didn’t shift in the 2002 election. He finds that Hispanics in ten states polled by Fox News (Texas, Florida, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Dakota) supported Democrats over Republicans for the Senate by more than two-to-one (67 percent to 33 percent). Democrats did less well in governors’ elections in these ten states, where Hispanics supported them by 54 percent to 46 percent, but that result probably had a great deal to do with the inclusion of Florida and the noncompetitive Colorado election in the sample. Gimpel concludes that there is little evidence that Latinos, in general, are moving away from the Democratic party, despite all the talk about Hispanics as swing voters. Indeed, Gimpel argues that Republicans' best bet is to hope that Hispanics stay home and don't show up election day. With these latest Census data, that seems to be more true than ever.