New York Times (The Upshot)
By Nate Cohn
October 21, 2014
Political analysts keep urging the Republican Party to do more to appeal to Hispanic voters. Yet the party’s congressional leaders show little sign of doing so, blocking an immigration overhaul and harshly criticizing President Obama for his plan to defer deportation for undocumented migrants.
There’s a simple reason that congressional Republicans are willing to risk alienating Hispanics: They don’t need their votes, at least not this year.
Republicans would probably hold the House — and still have a real chance to retake the Senate — if they lost every single Hispanic voter in the country, according to an analysis by The Upshot.
Such a thing would never happen, of course, but the fact that the Republicans may not need a single Hispanic vote in 2014 says a good deal about American politics today.
The fact that the Republican House majority does not depend on Hispanic voters helps explain why immigration reform has not become law, even though national Republican strategists believe the party needs additional support among Hispanic voters to compete in presidential elections. It’s true that Republicans would stand little, if any, chance of winning the presidency in 2016 if they lost every Hispanic voter. If anything, the Republicans probably need to make gains among Hispanic voters to compete in states like Florida and Nevada.
But Congressional elections are different. Although the young, urban and racially diverse Democratic coalition has won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, that coalition has not delivered House control to the Democrats. Gerrymandering isn’t the only cause, either. It’s the way the population is distributed.
Even a situation in which every Latino voter in America chose the Democratic candidate would mainly allow Democrats to fare better in the heavily Hispanic districts where the party already wins. This is already occurring, to a lesser degree. Over the last decade, Democratic gains among young and nonwhite voters have allowed Democrats to win a majority of the House vote without flipping enough districts to earn a majority of seats.
The Upshot analysis found that if not one of the eight million Hispanic voters supported the Republican candidate, Republicans would lose about a dozen House seats, especially in Florida and California. The loss of those seats would make the Republican House majority more vulnerable if Democrats made gains elsewhere in future years. But given the Republicans’ current strength across rural areas and in conservative suburbs, the loss of every Hispanic every voter would not be enough to cost them the 17 seats that would flip House control.
Those heavily Democratic districts are concentrated in metropolitan areas, while much of the country’s geographical area tilts Republican — and is still heavily non-Hispanic white. In districts held by House Republicans, Hispanics represent only 6.7 percent of eligible voters and an even smaller share of the electorate.
Hispanic voters will most likely make up less than 4 percent of voters in 18 of the 23 Republican-held congressional districts deemed potentially competitive by the Cook Political Report. Very few, if any, of these districts will be close enough for the loss of a fraction of Hispanic voters to make a difference.
Perhaps the clearest way to see that Republicans do not need Hispanic voters to keep the House is to look back to 2012. Because it was a presidential year, Hispanics voted in larger numbers than they are likely to this year, yet Republicans probably would have retained the House without Hispanic support two years ago. Republicans would have lost about 11 seats — six short of what Democrats needed to take the House – according to an analysis of election results, exit polls and census data.
The would-be Republican losses generally fall into two categories. The first are the few Republicans, often Hispanic themselves, who represent districts with a meaningful number of Hispanic voters. This group includes Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both from the Miami area, and Representative David Valadao, from the Central Valley in California.
The second group are the members in extremely close districts, where losing anything, even a tiny number of Hispanic voters, could make a difference. Representative Rodney Davis, of rural Illinois, who won by just 1,002 votes in 2012, is an example.
These estimates are just that — estimates — and they may be imperfect in some districts. Another dozen districts would have been extremely close, and Democrats could have won the chamber if six more of them had gone their way. But if the Republicans could have survived losing every Hispanic voter in 2012, their chances would be still better in 2014, when Hispanic turnout will be lower than it was two years ago. Most analysts also expect the Republicans to pick up a handful of seats this year, giving them a bigger cushion to withstand would-be losses from Hispanic voters.
The Republican lead in the race for control of the Senate, on the other hand, does not include such a cushion. A percentage point could make the difference in several of this year’s crucial contests, and winning every Hispanic vote might be worth a point to the Democrats — even in states with a small Hispanic population. Hispanic voters will represent about 3 percent of the electorate in the Senate battlegrounds.
We did a special run of our Senate model, Leo, imagining that the Republicans lost every Hispanic voter. In this situation, the odds flip — precisely, as it happens. Republicans would have just a 31 percent chance of retaking the Senate, compared with the current chance of 69 percent on Monday. Without any Hispanic votes, Republicans would lose a bit of ground everywhere, but become decided underdogs in Colorado and find themselves in a tight race in Texas.
Yet the Republicans would still have a plausible path to victory — as plausible as the actual Democratic path — because they could pick up the six Democratic seats they needed elsewhere. In South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Alaska, North Carolina and New Hampshire, there are very few Hispanic voters.
Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even entertaining this notion. In reality, the Republicans will win millions of Hispanic votes this November. But the House Republican majority does not depend on those votes. Indeed, it could even withstand losses far beyond reason.
To win the White House in 2016 or any future year, the Republicans will need a substantial number of Hispanic votes. But the fact that the party doesn’t need many of those votes to hold the House makes the Republican effort to appeal to Hispanic voters far more challenging. The Republican Congress has few, if any, immediate incentives to reach a compromise on immigration reform or otherwise reach out to Hispanics.
For individual Republicans in Congress, supporting such measure would verge on the irrational. It would leave them vulnerable to primary challenges and offer little or no benefit in the general election.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com