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The Hispanic Vote Up For Grabs

January 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All rights reserved. 

     Until recently, Republican strategists were inclined to write off the Hispanic vote. Turnouts were low, and those who did largely voted Democratic. Even George W. Bush's efforts to woo Mexican-Americans in his first gubernatorial bid in 1994 – the first broad, concerted appeal to Hispanics by a GOP candidate – were viewed privately by many strategists as a backdoor attempt at wooing suburban independents rather than Mexican-Americans themselves.

     But in recent years, where Republicans have actively sought the Hispanic vote, they have succeeded. Now, the prevailing wisdom is that this is a voting bloc up for grabs, and the first party to claim Hispanics will have a formidable arrow in its electoral quiver.

     A recent Pew Hispanic Center study suggests Hispanics eschew the group-think that has lashed black America to the Democratic Party. Indeed, among the Pew respondents, more than three-quarters preferred to be identified simply as Americans or by their country of ancestry – and not as Hispanics or Latinos. "They indicate very clearly," the study notes, "that they believe Latinos of different countries of origin have separate and distinct cultures rather than one unified Hispanic/Latino culture." That's a salient point, signaling that the GOP can pitch its vision honestly and evenly, without pandering to group rights or wrongs like Democrats.

     And it's a vision that appeals to Hispanics. Hispanic respondents to the Pew study overwhelmingly frown on the loose morals of American popular culture, and express ambivalence that their children will not share the same values as they. The study further notes that Hispanics hold a markedly optimistic view of America – upwards of 90 percent believe that the "opportunity to get ahead" is greater here than in their home countries. This resonates far more with the Republican message of entrepreneurship than the Democratic rhetoric of grievance.

     If there is a downside for Republicans in the Pew study, it is Hispanics' generally favorable views of government. By an overwhelmingly margin (60 percent to 34 percent), Hispanics would rather pay higher taxes for increased government services. (Conversely, black Americans said they favor lower taxes and smaller government 49 percent to 43 percent, and whites, 59 percent to 35 percent.) But this enchantment with Big Government appears to be temporary, dropping precipitously among successive generations to 42 percent – another testament to Hispanics rapid assimilation into American society.

     This Republican appeal isn't merely theoretical. On specific, hot-button political issues, Hispanics as a whole hold views strikingly more conservative than blacks and whites. A whopping 78 percent, for example, view abortion as unacceptable, compared to roughly 50 percent for whites and 70 percent for black Americans. Disapproval for divorce and homosexuality also runs higher among Hispanics.

     None of this means that a Republican-Hispanic coalition is immediate or inevitable. But there are core values that favor Republican candidates and eschew the group politics that Democrats exploit. Which party will direct government's role in the future depends in large measure on cementing the Hispanic vote, and it is the GOP's to lose.

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