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More Hispanics, More Democratic

By Ruy Teixeira

As two recent reports document, the Hispanic population of the United States continues to increase rapidly, especially in areas that we now think of as "solid red." The Pew Hispanic Center report describes and analyzes the extraordinary growth of the Hispanic population in six southern states, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, down to the county level. The Census report shows that Texas has now become a majority-minority state (joining New Mexico, California and Hawaii), primarily due to its burgeoning Hispanic population.

The political impact of this demographic trend should generally favor the Democrats. But the extent to which this is true will be limited if Democratic margins among Hispanics continue to be shaved, as they were in the 2004 election.

However, according to a useful new report by the indefatigable folks at Democracy Corps, the Democratic margin among Hispanics seems likely to expand in the future, not contract. If so, the pro-Democratic impact of Hispanic population growth should be very substantial.

The Democracy Corps report is based on a June survey of Hispanic voters, whose basic results I previously summarized. There is much rich detail in this report, but here are some of the most important observations:

Democrats witnessed the loss of a small though significant portion of their Hispanic support to George Bush in 2000 and 2004, but by no means were these dislodged voters an advance party for a greater flight of Hispanics from the Democratic Party. Hispanic voters remain instinctively very Democratic, but more important than that, they hold values, views of society, the economy and the role of government, as well as issue priorities and hopes for America, that put them deep inside the Democratic world. The Democrats will stem the erosion of the Hispanic vote, not by chasing the defectors or waving the partisan banner, but by rediscovering their own values and beliefs. The route to a national Democratic majority goes right through the Hispanic community, where Democrats will find the themes that best define the modern Democratic Party. . . .

[Hispanic] voters were disappointed and dislodged; they did not defect. In this survey just completed, Hispanics had swung back to the Democrats with a vengeance, giving them a 32-point margin in a generic race for Congress (61 to 29 percent). The Republican vote today is 10 points below what Bush achieved just six months earlier. These voters are deeply dissatisfied with the Bush economy and Iraq war; they are socially tolerant and internationalist; they align with a Democratic Party that respects Hispanics and diversity, that uses government to help families, reduce poverty and create opportunity, and that will bring major change in education and health care. This is even truer for the growing younger population under 30, including Gen Y voters, who support the Democrats by a remarkable 46 points (70 to 24 percent). All together, this paints a portrait of a group that respects Bill Clinton, indeed giving him higher marks than the Catholic Church, and that embraces his vision of the Democratic Party. . . .

When Hispanic voters were asked why Kerry lost, they focused above all on Kerry himself, his lack of clear convictions, followed by worries about his positions on abortion and gay marriage. . . .

That values issues were part of the erosion in 2004 and 2000 is not the same as saying that addressing those issues directly is the best way to rebuild the Democrats' majority. Majorities of Hispanics believe we should be tolerant of homosexuality, would keep abortion legal, and support stem cell research, even with church opposition. This is especially true among the large younger and more middle-class segments of the community. . . .

[Hispanics'] views on values, family, the economy, the poor, working people and the middle class, community and government, and how best to expand opportunity and realize the American dream put these voters in the center of a Democratic world-if the Democrats would remember what it means to be a Democrat in these times. (emphases added)

Do I detect a theme here? Just as Democrats-see the post below-will do best among difficult, contestable voter groups by making clear what they stand for, they will maximize their potential gains among Democratic-leaning Hispanics by doing the very same thing. Sounds like a winner to me.