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The GOP's Growing Latino Problem

By Greg Bobrinskoy

Dramatic Republican losses in the past two election cycles have been attributed to various factors. Yet the Republicans' decreasing support among Latinos should be among the most important problems to Republicans fearful of remaining in the political wilderness.

According to the Pew Research Center, whites represented 57% of Americans in 2005 with Latinos bypassing African Americans to become 14% of the population. By 2050, Latinos are projected to double in population to 29% with whites representing 47%. In the 2004 election, President Bush performed very well among Latinos for a Republican nominee, gaining 44% of their vote to Kerry's 53%. This year, Obama crushed McCain among Latino voters by a margin of 67 to 31 percent. The number of Latino voters increased by almost 25 percent compared to four years ago. According to the AP, 28% of Latinos polled had voted for the first time, compared to 12% for the entire electorate. Among these new Latino voters, Obama won by a resounding 76 to 23 percent.

One example of the power of the Latino vote is their influence in heavily blue states like Illinois and California. In 2004, Bush won a majority of white voters in both states despite losing them by double digits overall. The reason Bush lost was that he carried only 32% of the Latino vote in California and a meager 23% in Illinois. In the crucial state of Florida, however, Bush won the Latino vote 56 to 44 percent and carried the state.

In an increasingly diverse nation, Republican nominees will have to start winning astronomical percentages of the white vote to keep up with their drastically low support among Latinos and other minorities. Obama increased Kerry's percentage of the white vote by only 2%. He increased African American support from Kerry's 88% to 95%. Yet in states such as North Carolina and Virginia - where the African American percentage of the vote was high - their proportion of the vote was actually slightly less than 2004. Along with their increased percentage of the population and their rising voting numbers, Latinos were highly represented in key battleground states such as Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

In Florida, for example, there are many reasons Obama won the state other than increasing his support among Latinos. As the Miami Herald reported, Obama's campaign registered 200,000 new voters, put in 50 field offices, brought in 600,000 volunteers and poured $40 million into the state. However, we can see that by comparing Florida's results in 2004 and 2008, it was the Latino vote that turned Florida from red to blue.

In 2004, Bush won Florida 52 percent to Kerry's 47 percent. This year, Obama won the state 51 to 49 percent. Obama's support among Florida's white voters was the same as Kerry's in 2004. In the tables below we can see that if McCain had maintained Bush's share of Florida's Latino vote, he would have won Florida despite Obama receiving 10 percentage points more of the African American vote than Kerry.

2004 Florida

White-70%

Black-12%

Latino-15%

TOTAL

(R) Bush

57%

13%

56%

52%

(D) Kerry

42%

86%

44%

47%

 

2008 Florida

White-71%

Black-13%

Latino-14%

TOTAL

(R) McCain

56% (-1)

4% (-9)

42% (-14)

49% (-3)

(D) Obama

42% (-)

96% (+10)

57% (+13)

51% (+4)

 

 

2008 FL Revised

White-71%

Black-13%

Latino-14%

TOTAL

(R) McCain

56% (-1)

4% (-9)

56%

51%

(D) Obama

42% (-)

96% (+10)

44%

49%

In Colorado, McCain actually outperformed Bush's percentage of the Latino vote. Yet this was hardly cause for McCain to celebrate. Bush lost Colorado's Latino vote 68-30, while McCain lost their vote 61-38. To make matters worse for McCain, Latinos increased their percentage of the Colorado electorate from 8% in 2004 to 13% in 2008. In 2004, Bush won Nevada 51%-48%, this year Obama won the state by double digits, 55% to 43%. Latinos increased their percentage of the vote by 5 points, from 10% to 15%. And while Kerry performed well among Latinos in Nevada, winning over the demographic 60-39, Obama crushed McCain 76 to 22 percent. Once again, McCain's percentage of the white vote was only slightly changed from Bush's percentage in 2004 when Bush won the state. Obama changed Nevada from red to blue because of the Latino vote.

The most obvious case of McCain suffering from low support among Latinos is New Mexico. In 2004, Bush won New Mexico 50% to 49%. This year, McCain lost New Mexico in a landslide, receiving just 42% of the overall vote to Obama's 57%. What explains this 16 point turnaround for the Democrats? Hint: It's not the white vote. Bush won among New Mexico's white voters 56-43, with white voters compromising 57% of the vote. McCain was able to keep up with Bush's 56-43 margin among white voters with a 56-42 margin over Obama. But in 2004, New Mexico's Latino vote made up 32% of the vote and voted for Kerry 56-44. In 2008, Latinos increased their percentage of the electorate by 9 points up to a dramatic 41% of the vote. They also gave Obama a 13 point boost from four years ago for a 69-30 percent blowout. White voters comprised only 50% of the New Mexico vote this year, down 7 points from 4 years ago. In summation, although McCain was able to win by double digits among New Mexico's white voters as Bush had in 2004, McCain was still routed by 15 points because of the shift by Hispanics to the Democratic candidate and their surge in the percentage of the vote. Once again it was the Latino vote that proved the crushing blow for McCain.

Had McCain, the Republican Party's most Latino-friendly candidate, not won the nomination of his party this year, we might assume that Obama would have performed even better than he did among Latinos. This data speaks volumes about the future of the Republican Party in an increasingly racially diverse America. When Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996, white voters made up 83% of the electorate. This year, white voters compromised 74% of the vote. Latinos are still voting at disproportionately low numbers in comparison to their percentage of the population. One can assume that as Latinos become more assimilated in American society, the higher their percentage of the electorate will become. The future of the Republican Party depends on winning back their dwindling support among Latinos.

Greg Bobrinskoy is an Associate Editor at RealClearPolitics.