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Insight Magazine

Q: Should The GOP Undertake More Outreach To Minorities During Campaign 2004? ; NO: A Better Strategy Is To Increase GOP Share Of The White Majority


April 26, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Arguing that it's not in the GOP's best interest to do more outreach to minority voting blocs during campaign 2004 may initially strike you as lunatic. After all, the conventional wisdom is that Republicans simply must do better among minorities to stand a chance.

Before the 2002 midterm elections, Karl Rove gave so many interviews explaining how the GOP was going to attract minorities that many commentators simply assumed that successful minority outreach must have been what drove the GOP to its 51 percent to 45 percent margin among voters in the 2002 House of Representatives races, up from a mere 49 percent to 48 percent edge in 2000.

Because the computer system for aggregating the Voter News Service (VNS) exit poll crashed on Election Day 2002, no national demographic data were immediately available to test this fashionable belief. Fortunately, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research assembled the missing interview records of 17,872 voters and had them reviewed by a panel of statisticians. They determined that "the 2002 data is of comparable utility and quality to past VNS exit polls." So I bought the raw data from Roper and crunched it on my computer.

I found that the GOP House candidates actually did worse among minorities in 2002, winning only 23 percent of their votes, down from 25 percent in 2000. Moreover, in the midterms, 92 percent of the ballots cast for Republican House candidates came from non- Hispanic whites, up from 90 percent in 2000.

Minority outreach flopped, but the Republicans romped. How could this be?

The reason is simple: The majority is, by definition, bigger than the minority.

The GOP increased its share of the white majority from 55 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2002. You constantly see articles extolling the importance of minority votes, but you seldom come across any pundit emphasizing the significance of majority votes. Mentioning the electoral necessity of whites is considered politically incorrect or in bad taste or just not done in polite society. But the reality is that the non-Hispanic white segment is the 800-pound gorilla of ethnic voting blocs, casting 82 percent of all ballots last time, up from 81 percent in 2000.

In theory, increased minority outreach seems so reasonable. Why doesn't it work in the voting booth? Let's walk through the numbers.

I've read countless articles quoting as gospel what GOP pollster Matthew Dowd told the Washington Post in 2001: "Republicans have to increase their percentage among blacks and certainly among Hispanics. As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between 13 [percent] and 15 percent of the black vote and 38 [percent] to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote." To put that in perspective, in 2000, George W. Bush won only 9 percent of the black vote and 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to VNS.

Yet, a minority is, of necessity, relatively smaller than the majority. The minority vote accounted for only about 19 percent of the whole in 2000 and 18 percent in 2002.

Further, there's no single minority bloc. There are multiple minorities, often with conflicting interests. Minority politicians typically try to maintain a unified front to advance a liberal agenda, but tangible differences divide the races. Affirmative action, for example, benefits blacks and Latinos but not Asians. On the other hand, blacks find their wages driven down and their political clout eroded by the huge number of newcomers from Latin America.

Hispanics are the glamour minority of the moment in the political world, but they make up only a minority of minorities. In fact, Latinos cast just 5.4 percent of all votes in 2000, according to the Census Bureau's phone survey of about 50,000 households right after the presidential election. (The VNS poll said they made up 6.5 percent of the vote, but that's based on a smaller sample. The Census Bureau, however, didn't inquire for whom you voted, whereas VNS did.) Sure, Hispanics are growing in numbers, but not as fast as many assume. From 1988 to 2000 they rose from 3.6 percent to 5.4 percent, so extrapolation suggests Hispanics will constitute about 6 percent of voters this November.

Evidently, few who have trumpeted Dowd's quote have bothered to multiply the Latino percentage in 2004 (6 percent) by the 3 to 5 percentage-point gain that Dowd claims will determine whether Bush wins a second term. Why don't you take a second and become one of the first to perform the calculation yourself? You find that if Bush wins 3 to 5 points more among Hispanics, his total vote would go up by 0.18 to 0.3 percentage points. That's paltry.

When you actually do the basic arithmetic, you realize that Bush doesn't "have to" win more Hispanic votes. There are many other plausible ways he can add a few tenths of a percentage point.

Worse, even the Latino bloc isn't really a bloc. Republican leaders don't know much about minorities many of the few Hispanics the GOP leaders talk to are political consultants hoping to import more foreign Hispanics into our country to make their own services look more needed so they tend to come up with ways to "Hispander" (as Slate's Mickey Kaus calls it) that are both cynical and stupid.

Remember how Newt Gingrich, in pursuit of the fast-growing Latino immigrant vote, bullied the House into approving statehood for Puerto Rico in 1998? The bill died quietly, however, when Republican Senators realized that half of Puerto Rico consistently votes against statehood. Moreover, immigrant groups such as Mexicans just don't care about Puerto Rico. Worst of all, Puerto Ricans are staunch Democrats.

The Bush administration's version of Puerto Rican statehood is the president's Jan. 7 speech calling for the legalizing of illegal immigrants and the opening of America's borders to anyone anywhere who can get a minimum-wage job offer here.

The Bush plan's appeal to Puerto Ricans is negligible because they are born citizens, so they can't be illegal aliens. And Cubans care about legalizing refugees, not economic migrants. So the Bush push is aimed mostly at Mexican-American voters. But they cast merely 3 percent of the vote in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, which is not a big number.

Moreover, polls show that Mexican-American voters rationally have mixed feelings about illegal immigration, since they are hit hardest by illegals competing for their jobs, overcrowding their schools, and showing up on their distant relatives' doorsteps and asking to sleep on their living-room couches for a couple of years.

My opponent, Richard Nadler, is in the business of placing conservative political ads on black and Hispanic radio stations. He thinks, perhaps not surprisingly, that the GOP should spend more money on ads on black and Hispanic radio stations.

As with any expenditure, the opportunity costs should be weighed. A dollar spent on Spanish-language ads is a dollar that can't be spent on a get-out-the-vote drive, such as Rove's highly successful "72 Hour Plan" during the last three days of the 2002 race. Sometimes I suspect that Rove's minority outreach talk was mostly a cover story to distract Democrats and journalists from the GOP's true 2002 goal of eliciting stronger turnout among conservative whites.

Worse than possibly wasting money, however, is backing election- losing policies, of which Bush's immigration plan is a classic example. One obvious problem with Bush trying to import more Hispanics into the country is that, on average, they vote solidly Democratic. As a long-term political strategy, the Bush plan resembles the old joke about the business that lost money on every item it sold but made it up on volume.

Although Latinos often are described as swing voters, their actual performance has been quite stable relative to the white vote. Since 1980, the GOP's House candidates always have performed between 19 percent and 28 percentage points worse among Hispanics than among whites. From 2000 to 2002 the gap grew slightly from 20 to 21 points.

That's why the president explicitly wants to block most of the guest workers from becoming U.S. citizens. But that bit of realpolitik concedes the rhetorical high ground to the Democrats. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) is calling for illegal aliens to be put on "the path to citizenship," which certainly sounds more patriotically inspiring than Bush's plan to keep them disenfranchised. (Plus, the guest workers' children would be born U.S. citizens, so the long-run impact is similar.) A poll by the James Irvine Foundation found that Hispanics favored the Democratic approach over the Bush plan by 75 percent to 16 percent. The most immediate danger for the GOP is that in its headlong pursuit of minority voters, it can advocate policies that alienate majority voters. If the Bush immigration plan drives away 1 percent of white voters and all the polls indicate it's deeply unpopular then it would have to attract 27 percent more Mexican-American votes just to break even.

No question, the Mexican-American vote is growing, but it's far from dominant now. That's why the GOP needs to regain control of our borders now, while Republicans still hold a strong hand. If the GOP won't act soon, then immigration will become a perpetual-motion machine for making more Democrats, just as the Liberal Party in Canada uses immigration to create liberal voters.

Similarly, some Republicans pursuing black votes have wound up committing political suicide by backing state-level voucher plans witness what happened to Bret Schundler in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. What the Schundlers of the world don't grasp is that affluent suburban homeowners, normally a Republican constituency, don't want inner-city students using vouchers to get into their kids' schools. The high test scores of their schools translate directly into property value, which is where much of their net worth is tied up. People in exclusive suburbs want to keep them that way. (This doesn't mean vouchers are permanently doomed. A clever program restricting students to their own city's schools might well prove popular with white voters.)

In summary, in a democracy the majority rules.

Sailer writes a column on immigration, race and other politically incorrect public issues that appears every Monday on Peter Brimelow's Web magazine. He also contributes film reviews to the Pat Buchanan and Taki magazine, The American Conservative (

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