F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
September 16, 2001
Do Democrats Have a Lock on Latinos?

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Can the Republican Party appeal to Hispanic voters without sacrificing its longstanding commitment to limited government?

"George W. Bush and prominent members of the GOP leadership have high hopes for Latino voters, believing that a political realignment is in the making, or soon can be if the right strings are pulled," report James Gimpel and Karen Kaufmann, professors of government at the University of Maryland. "The Republican case for pursuing Latino voters," they contend, "rests mainly on what some in the GOP perceive as the cost of not doing so. Republicans, like the Democrats, are aware of some compelling demographic realities. As of the 2000 census, Latinos represent the largest minority group in the nation. . . ."

In a recent report from the Center for Immigration Studies (cis.org), Professors Gimpel and Kaufmann discuss "the obvious demographic imperative that motivates Republicans to create inroads into these burgeoning minority electorates." They point out that "California was not as competitive for the Republicans in the 2000 presidential election as it had been in elections past," which reflects "the pronounced Democratic bias among Latino voters in that state. Other states with large Hispanic populations are tipping more Democratic as well. . . ."

Gimpel and Kaufmann conclude, however, that "surprisingly little" of the Latino vote is "in play." They say "Republicans can count on 20 to 25 percent of the Hispanic vote in most states, regardless of what they do. Obtaining the sizable gains to pull even with Democrats is unrealistic anytime soon," the two professors advise. "For Bush, the challenge may be in simply maintaining some Hispanic vote share, not making gains."

Gimpel and Kaufmann question "whether the GOP attempt to woo Hispanics is worth the enormous effort that it would take to make solid gains. The GOP," they note, "is in no position to make the kind of policy promises that would be required to bring Latinos over to the Republican side, much less deliver on such promises. And yet, by merely flirting with the Hispanic vote, one risks mobilizing them without converting them." Gimpel and Kaufmann emphasize that "Republicans pay significant opportunity costs in chasing after the Latino vote. Their time may be better spent on trying to close the gender gap," they suggest, "or attracting the loyalties of white working-class voters who have regularly shown an independent streak."

Gimpel and Kaufmann conclude that "President Bush and the Republicans are probably overestimating the extent of Latino consensus in support of high levels of immigration. Latinos are strongly attracted to the Democratic Party," they contend, "not because of that party's positions on immigration policy, in isolation, but because the Democrats are in line with Latino policy preferences on education, health care, and social services, firmly entrenched positions that neither the Democratic Party nor the GOP will change in the foreseeable future." Gimpel and Kaufmann argue that "the prospects of a widespread Latino conversion to the Republicans are more fantasy than reality. The GOP," they emphasize, "is not operating in a vacuum. There is another party out there actively courting the Latino vote with a platform far more consistent with their interests."