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The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute
Mitt Romney’s loss owes a lot to demographic changes in the country, particularly the growth of non-white voters. Republicans are searching for ways to increase their vote share among these groups, particularly Hispanic voters. Currently, Republicans are debating whether or not to back comprehensive immigration reform, which could include some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants. While it’s true that Hispanic voters care about immigration more than most Americans, Republicans shouldn’t fool themselves that simply changing their stance on illegal immigration will solve their problems with Latino voters. Republicans have less leverage on other issues than they think. The most often mentioned “pull” Republicans believe they have with Latino voters are social issues. But that’s not what the latest polls show.
Hispanics have become more socially liberal over the last several years. In a recent Pew report, half of all Hispanics supported same-sex marriage, while one third opposed it. Sixty-one percent of Hispanic Americans told Pew that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to cover contraception coverage. The one issue where Hispanics seem to agree with social conservatives is the one which got Republicans in the hottest water in 2012, abortion. And even there, only a narrow majority of Hispanics believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.
Hispanics are by no means a unified voting bloc. Religiously unaffiliated Hispanics and Catholic Hispanics are generally more liberal and lean heavily towards the Democrats in their partisan identification. Evangelical Hispanics are the one group that look conservative, especially on social issues. But only 39 percent of Evangelical Hispanics current identify as Republicans according to Pew. How can Republicans grow without alienating their current base among Evangelical Hispanics? This problem is emblematic of the larger challenge Republicans face on the national stage. Emerging and growing demographic groups tend to be more socially liberal, but groups currently within the Republican camp are socially conservative. And with Evangelical Hispanics, that base is far from secure.
One area where Hispanics are generally more socially conservative is their belief that some of America’s problems reside in the decline of traditional values, according to a recent PRRI survey. But once you take into account the growing liberal consensus on many social issues among Hispanics, one gets the sense that these traditional values have very little to do with politics. These values revolve around the family and family structure. For example, in the PRRI survey, Hispanics are more likely than other racial groups to say that woman are naturally better suited than men to raise children.
Republicans should keep in mind that demographics aren’t the only forces of change in the country, although these are currently working against them. Attitudes shift and move as well. And while those changes are not necessarily permanent, in order for Republicans to maintain a national majority, or even have the possibility of a national majority within reach, they will have to address Hispanic voters in a way that accounts for the more liberal positions on social issues.
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