Democratic strategists were euphoric after President Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008. They had helped elect an African American president and believed they were witnessing a fundamental change in their coalition.
The Democrats had replaced the culturally conservative working-class White voters who helped elect President Bill Clinton with minorities, millennials and socially liberal White voters. These rapidly growing demographic groups supposedly gave Democrats a permanent majority.
After Obama’s reelection in 2012, the Republican National Committee commissioned an “autopsy” to supposedly explain how the party could appeal to an increasingly diverse nation. The Establishment responded by advocating joining Democrats in espousing identity politics.
Elites in both parties saw the election of President Trump as a temporary setback fueled by the last gasps of a shrinking opposition. The election this month proved them wrong. Republicans proved they can build an aspirational, multi-ethnic, culturally conservative, working-class coalition.
Republicans must compete by communicating how conservative values benefit all Americans and protect the freedoms that attract immigrants here in the first place.
Hispanics are following generations of immigrants before them, assimilating into American culture and voting based on their beliefs, not ethnicity. Democrats want Hispanics to vote on the circumstances of their arrival, but they are increasingly voting based on the reasons for their coming.
The Democratic coalition requires strong majorities among Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing group, to replace the working-class White voters they are leaving behind.
Republicans’ increase in Hispanic support proves Democrats were premature in declaring demographics as destiny.
In the presidential election campaign this year, Joe Biden noted the diversity of the Latino community, citing different attitudes about immigration in Florida versus Arizona, while denigrating African Americans as monolithic.
Most in the media focused on Biden’s bizarre comments about African Americans, for which he apologized, but Biden revealed an important political truth concerning Hispanics.
Conservatism appeals to voters on their cultural and economic interests, not their ethnicity, and many Hispanic voters found Trump’s working-class message appealing.
The election saw a notable shift in heavily Hispanic counties. Compared to the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s support rose by 5% in Yuma County, Ariz.; 8% in Imperial County, Calif.; 7% in Luna County, N.M.; and 28% in Starr County, Texas.
Trump especially improved his performance in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In addition, Trump won Florida by nearly 4 percentage points.
OnMessage Inc. (OMI), a Republican political polling and consulting firm co-founded by the co-author of this op-ed (Wes Anderson), conducted a survey the previous week showing Trump leading 49-48% among Hispanics. This trend is not unique to this election or Trump.
In the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Florida, which Wes Anderson worked on, Republican Rick Scott nearly won Hispanics. OMI’s post-election survey found Hispanics split 52-48% for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott, who won the race, avoided pandering and committed time and resources to attract Hispanics.
Democrats dismiss Republican strength in Florida as the result of Cuban Americans unrepresentative of Hispanics elsewhere. They are wrong. The Florida Hispanic community continues to diversify. Cuban Americans make up 22%.
While Scott talked to Cuban Americans, he spent as much time talking to other Hispanics. OMI showed Scott won 34% of Puerto Ricans, a group normally extremely loyal to Democrats.
Many recent Hispanic immigrants have seen the devastating reality of socialism, unlike young Democrats attracted by the theory.
OMI’s Florida survey showed Trump won 35% of Puerto Ricans, 60% of Cuban Americans, and 55% of Central and South Americans. Scott and Trump won a majority of Cuban Americans, Central Americans and South Americans. The state becomes solidly red if Republicans hold this support.
Why are Hispanics moving to Republicans? Hispanics are more conservative than Democratic base voters.
In OMI’s August national survey, 41% of Democrats said they consider themselves liberal versus 23% of Hispanics. In addition, 11% of Democrats call themselves conservative versus 38% of Hispanics.
On top of this, 26% of Democrats call themselves pro-life versus 53% of Hispanics. And 13% of Democrats favor the National Rifle Association versus 47% of Hispanics.
These results show that nearly half of Hispanics are out of step with Democratic orthodoxy.
In OMI’s August 2019 Florida poll, 34% of Democrats favored America retaining capitalism over becoming socialist. However, only 18% of Hispanics favored socialism versus 64% for capitalism. In OMI’s August 2020 national survey, 50% of Hispanics agreed that Democrats “have strongly embraced socialism” and want “to make America as socialist as most European countries.”
Many recent Hispanic immigrants have seen the devastating reality of socialism, unlike young Democrats attracted by the theory. Hispanics come here to pursue the American Dream, not recreate the circumstances that caused them to leave home.
The leftward lurch of the Democratic Party is driving a significant disconnect between Democrats and many Hispanics. This philosophical divide isn’t new, but has deepened.
The summer threw these differences into the blast furnace of civil unrest. In OMI’s national survey, 73% of Democrats described the unrest as “legitimate protest over racial injustice;” but only 40% of Hispanics agreed.
In addition, 55% of Hispanics said the unrest devolved into “violent riots more focused on looting and destroying property;” only 21% of Democrats agreed.
And 69% of Hispanics opposed “significantly cutting funding for police.” Many Hispanics were disturbed by the unrest, and they blamed the left.
Hispanics living in older, more affordable, closer-in suburbs adopt some of the same conservative concerns as their neighbors. Wealthier white liberals cheer looting and defunding the police from the safety of distant communities.
In contrast to previous immigrants, some Hispanics have bypassed traditional urban gateway cities and settled directly into rural and suburban areas. Since 1990, the Hispanic population in rural areas has more than doubled.
Republican success with minority voters was not limited to Hispanics. Trump improved his performance in Orange County, Calif., communities with large Asian populations — for example, Westminster, Garden Grove, and Santa Ana.
Trump’s coalition of working-class and rural voters proved more durable, numerous, and multi-ethnic than the media and pollsters expected. Economic arguments can win additional suburban voters to add to this populist conservative movement and provide a winning formula for Republicans going forward.
Wes Anderson, a founder of OnMessage Inc. (OMI), was named pollster of the year in 2018 by the American Association of Political Consultants for his accuracy and strategic guidance in the victories of Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri.