Byron York: Hispanics didn’t decide election
After moments of panic in the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat, some Republicans and conservatives are regaining their equilibrium on the issue of what the GOP should do about immigration and the Hispanic vote.
They’re looking at key questions from the campaign, like how much of Barack Obama’s victory was attributable to Hispanic support. They’re also looking at the Hispanic electorate itself to see how big a role immigration, versus a wide range of other issues, played in voting decisions. The goal, of course, is to win a larger portion of the Hispanic vote, but first to take a clear-eyed look at what actually happened Nov. 6.
And the lesson for Republicans is: Take your time. Calmly reassess your positions. Don’t pander.
The first question is whether Hispanic voters gave Obama his margin of victory. In a recent analysis, the New York Times’ Allison Kopicki and Will Irving looked at vote totals in each state, plus the percentage of the vote cast by Hispanics, to see what the outcome would have been had Hispanics voted differently.
For example, they looked at Wisconsin, a state the Romney-Ryan team hoped to win. Hispanics weren’t a huge part of the total vote — about 4 percent, according to the exit polls — and Obama won big among them, 65 percent to 31 percent. But going through the totals, Kopicki and Irving concluded that even if every single Hispanic voter in Wisconsin had cast a ballot for Romney, Obama still would have won.
They found the same result for New Hampshire and Iowa, two other swing states Romney looked to win.
Then there was Ohio. According to the exit polls, Obama won 53 percent of the Hispanic vote there. But given how decisively Obama won other voting groups, Kopicki and Irving found that the president would have prevailed in Ohio even if he had won just 22 percent of the Hispanic vote. Even if Romney had won a 78 percent of the Hispanic vote, he still would have lost Ohio.
In Virginia, Obama won the Latino vote 65 percent to 33 percent. Kopicki and Irving found that if those numbers had been reversed — if Romney had won an unprecedented 65 percent of the Latino vote — Obama still would have won Virginia.
Even in states where the Hispanic vote played a bigger role, Romney could have made significant gains among Hispanics and still lost. In Colorado, for example, the president won Hispanics by a huge margin, 75 percent to 23 percent. Kopicki and Irving found that Romney could have increased his margin to 42 percent — a major improvement for a Republican — and still come up short in Colorado.
The bottom line is that even if Romney had made historic gains among Hispanic voters, he still would have lost the election. That means Romney underperformed among more than just Hispanic voters. And that means winning more Hispanic votes is far from the GOP’s only challenge.
Then there is the question of what motivates Hispanic voters. “They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example),” columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote Nov. 8. “The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.” Krauthammer urged Republicans to accept amnesty for illegals, accompanied by a completed border fence.
Some other conservatives echoed Krauthammer’s sentiments. But social scientist Charles Murray looked across a broad range of data and found little to support the notion that Hispanics are natural Republicans. Hispanics “aren’t more religious than everyone else ... aren’t married more than everyone else ... aren’t more conservative than everyone else,” Murray wrote. In addition, Hispanics don’t work harder than other groups and are only slightly more pro-life than the rest of the population.
Exit poll information suggests Hispanics voted on a number of issues beyond illegal immigration — and those issues favored Democrats. A majority of Hispanics who voted Nov. 6 favored keeping Obamacare. A majority favored higher taxes for higher earners. A majority — two-thirds, in fact — said abortion should be legal.
None of this is to say the GOP shouldn’t seek more Hispanic votes. There are opportunities; for example, Romney made significant inroads among Hispanic voters with college degrees. But the fact is, Republicans had a serious problem with lots of voters, as well as potential voters who didn’t go to the polls. The Hispanic vote was just part of it.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.