A Strategy for Winning the New Latino Generations

Immediately following the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington DC in mid-March, the Republican National Committee released an action plan critical of Republican Party strategy in the last election.

According to party chairman, Reince Priebus, the upshot of the election showed a party with a weak message, an insufficient ground game, a poor sense of inclusion of women, minorities and youth, lagging behind in data collection and digital capacity and weighed down by a primary and debate process which proved onerous and redundant.

It is the growth of the welfare state in the last 60 years that has created perverse incentives and made immigration the third rail of U.S. politics.

- Fernando Menéndez

In an effort to reverse the trend, the leadership announced it was spending $10 million to hire more staff, and consequently improving its message of inclusion, outreach to women and minorities, building grassroots organization, up scaling technology and reforming the system of primaries, conventions and debates.

One key lesson of the last election, for some Republicans, came when the party’s presidential candidate lost the Latino vote to president Obama by 72 to 28 percent. Many pundits have since written off the Hispanic vote, claiming that the Democrats had bought off the fastest growing U.S. demographic group for years to come.

The New Latino Demographics

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What these pundits have missed so far concerns the nature and dynamics of the new Latino demographic. Far from being a static population, changes are taking place within the Latino community that are worth watching.

As the fastest growing demographic group, Latinos are anticipated to constitute 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, with a 40 percent growth in the Latino electorate by 2030. These new generations of U.S. Latinos, nearly 60 percent of whom are U.S.-born with continued cultural and family ties to relatives elsewhere in the Americas, are often bilingual and increasingly monolingual English speakers. They are Americans of Latino descent. Politicians failing to respond to these trends, or worse, those who antagonize it, are condemned to wander the political desert for decades.

Focusing on the education of the next generation, entering the middle class and the attaining the American dream of owning one’s own home or business are still key aspirations for many within the Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central and South American communities that make up the Latino population of the United States. These aspirations clash with an expanding public sector, government dependence and ever-burdensome tax levies on productive entrepreneurs. The bodega owner struggling to clear $250,000 might find it alarming to be considered among the “rich.”

Latino values tend to be traditional, religious and family centered, emphasizing self-reliance and responsibility. On average Hispanics are more conservative than most Americans on social issues like abortion and crime. According to several studies, Hispanics favor school choice overwhelmingly by over two to one. 

Immigrants coming to the U.S. seek the rule of law and the legal framework allowing them to pursue their individual and family dreams. It is not the lack of hard work that keeps them poor in Mexico or Bolivia – these are extremely hardworking people – but the legal and political institutions that erect barriers to entry in commerce, education, and other avenues of social advancement and propel them to leave home. 

Immigrants have always come to the U.S. to work and contribute. It is the growth of the welfare state in the last 60 years that has created perverse incentives and made immigration the third rail of U.S. politics. Any comprehensive reform must combine the continued contribution of immigrants with respect for existing laws.

What Kind of Strategy?

The Republican strategy, if it is to have any significance to these communities, must avoid a scaled-down version of the Democratic party alternative. Responding to government entitlements with a Republican-lite version is to lose the battle. The question becomes not whether government will expand, but how fast and how much.

In the 1980s it was British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who best understood how to change this pattern of capitulation. Thatcher proposed a new relationship between the people and their government. By privatizing public housing and state-owned industries she created thousands of property owners and provided British citizens the chance to opt out of failing government schools and welfare schemes. 

As people began to look to a growing private sector for their incomes and jobs, becoming shareholders and homeowners, their aspirations became wedded to private property and the market economy. New sectors of the population, once dependent on government, gained a growing stake in freedom. The new relationship resulted in Conservative electoral victories and influenced Tony Blair’s Labour party to jettison its socialist platform.

The tactical changes announced in the GOP’s new plan of action may yield some success, but only if they adopt a new strategic orientation to women, minorities and youth. Taking a page from Thatcher, Republicans must learn to place their renewed efforts within the larger long-term strategy of illustrating the advantages of freedom to those most denied it and most desirous of it.

Fernando Menéndez is an economist and principal of the Cordoba Group International LLC, a strategic consultancy.

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