Hispanics, are supposed to be the quintessential “unmeltable” ethnics who don’t assimilate easily and thus tend to vote as a bloc for liberal Democratic candidates who appeal to their sense of victim status. This perception especially holds for recent Latino immigrants.
In fact, thanks to the peculiar workings of the Electoral College, Hispanics are an asset to the Republican Party. Most Hispanic voters don’t actually cast their ballots for the GOP, of course; they vote the Democratic stereotype. Hispanics made up 4 percent of the electorate in Election 2000, according to exit polls. Democratic candidate Al Gore won 67 percent of their support, compared with 31 percent for George W. Bush, the Republican. Yet these figures, however sobering, must be considered relatively good news for the Republicans: It was their best showing among Latinos since Ronald Reagan captured 37 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1984. It also reversed the backward slide of Republican presidential candidates, who had won an ever-smaller share of Hispanic votes every four years since that 1984 race. Bob Dole earned only 21 percent support from Hispanics in 1996, down from the elder George Bush’s 25 percent in 1992 and 30 percent in 1988.
The Election 2000 gains for the Republican Party among Hispanics also occurred at a time when the GOP performed poorly with two other minority groups. Black support for the Republican Party bottomed out at a measly 8 percent, and Asian-Americans, for the first time since reliable records started being kept, preferred the Democratic presidential candidate over the Republican one.
Yet it might be said that Bush is president today because of Hispanic votes—or, more accurately, Cuban- American votes. As everybody who didn’t go into hibernation around Election Day knows, Bush won his ticket to the White House because he beat Gore in Florida by a whopping total of 537 votes. If it hadn’t been for his showing among Cuban-Americans—there were nearly 400,000 of them, and 80 percent went for Bush—he wouldn’t have carried the state.
(Bush might have tried to return the favor, in a way, by picking Mel Martinez, a central Florida lawyer and politician, to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Martinez is the first Cuban-American to hold a Cabinet position.)
Bush’s margin in Florida was so narrow that just about any small group might have made a crucial difference for him, from the Pentecostals of Pensacola to the citrus growers of Orange County. Yet this isn’t the first time Cuban-Americans deserve credit for Republican success in Florida. If none of Florida’s Hispanics had voted (mostly Republican) in 1992, for example, the state’s 25 electoral votes would have swung to Bill Clinton instead of the elder Bush. And if no Hispanics had voted (mostly Democratic) anywhere in America that year, Colorado and New Mexico, two swing states that went Democratic, would have landed in the GOP column. Do the math: 25 electoral votes for Republicans because of Hispanics, and 13 for Democrats (Colorado’s eight and New Mexico’s five) because of Hispanics.
This arithmetic won’t work forever, as Hispanic numbers in the United States grow and Hispanics themselves move out of the handful of states in which they currently live. And vote- rich, Hispanic-heavy California is likely to remain a one-party state controlled by Democrats for a long time if Republicans continue to perform as poorly as they now do among Hispanics. Cuban-Americans are a Hispanic political anomaly: middle-class refugees from Fidel Castro’s Cuba who associate liberal politics with the regime they fled. The hope for the GOP must be that Hispanics will assimilate over time as they prosper in this country. And if there’s ever been a sign of successful Americanization, it’s a willingness to vote Republican.