Hispanics, we are constantly told, are the most important demographic in American politics today. They provided President Obama his margin of victory in 2012, and, supossedly, all but guarantee that Democrats will control the White House for decades to come.
Hispanics certainly are the reason why the Republican party is essentially dead in California. Not only do Republicans hold zero statewide elected offices, but in 2012, Latinos made up 22 percent of the electorate and went for Obama over Romney by a 72 percent to 27 percent margin.
Considering their strong connection to the Democratic Party, Democrats should be firmly in control of any state where Latinos make up a significant part of the population.
How did this happen?
Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, addresses this issue, and many more in his new book released today, "A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans."
"Texas's harsh rural poverty combined with an even harsher climate and topography to breed a frontier mentality in which neighbor helped neighbor," Gonzalez writes. "Mexicans in Texas, especially the people who spoke for them, were unabashedly patriotic, joined the army, and fought serration tooth and nail as they sought not a separate identity but a piece of the American pie."
"California's path to equality," Gonzalez continues, "emphasized less patriotism and more separation and identity politics. Its more militant Chicano Movement was about sit ins, bilingual education, and 'Chicano studies.' ... Unlike the [Texas based Order of the Sons of America], the Chicano Movement emphasized pride in Mexicans' distinctiveness and a refusal to assimilate."
Not only did the progressive movement discourage California's Mexican immigrants from assimilating, but its very generous welfare state made it much easier for them not to. Gonzalez details:
California's overly expansive welfare state has landed a higher percentage of its population on public assistance than has been the case in almost any other state in the Union. Texas, in contrast, has consigned fewer of its people to public assistance. With 12 percent of the total US population, California has 34 percent of the welfare caseload, for an overrepresentation of 238 percent. That means that means that though only one of eight Americans lives in California, the state is home to more than one of three welfare recipients. By contrast, Texas with 8 percent of the US population, has only 3 percent of the country's welfare caseload, for and underrepresentation of 35 precent."
The effect of California's progressive welfare state on California's Hispanic population has been dramatic. While California and Texas Hispanics have equal poverty rates, Texas Hispanics are more likely to be employed (California Hispanic unemployment is 12.7 precent compared to 7.7 percent in Texas), more likely to own a home, more likely to start a business, and more likely to be married.
As a result of being better assimilated and less dependent on the progressive welfare state, Texas Hispanics also are fare more likely to vote Republican. There were no exit polls in Texas in 2012, but in 2008, while California Hispanics went for Obama by a 74 percent to 23 percent margin, Texas Hispanics went Democratic by just 63 percent to 35 percent. Eating into the Democrats Hispanic edge by just ten points makes all the difference between a reliable blue state and a reliable red state.
So what can conservatives do to make sure more Hispanics turn out like Texans and not like Californians?
There is no silver bullet. But Gonzalez advises conservatives to engage Hispanic communities as much as possible:
The trick is to offer Hispanics an alternative, not more of the same, to show them that though superficially the liberal version of community may appear more attractive, it is the conservative one that leads to the good life.
To do this, conservatives will have to make a mobility argument to Hispanics. Conservatives will need to go out into Hispanic neighborhoods and explain that liberal policies have held Hispanics back. They came to this country to thrive and join the community at large, not to be balkanized into pockets of poverty. Whatever the appeal of its siren song, what government has offered has had the opposite result.
Gonzalez does not ignore illegal immigration, but he does not let it become a distraction either. "[T]he conversation about illegal immigration takes up all the oxygen in the room, and we shouldn't let it," Gonzalez writes, also noting that the economy, education, and the family all routinely outrank immigration as a priority among Hispanics when polled.
"Hispanic voting patterns will not change if all we do is throw open the gateway and do not adopt a plan for the future," Gonzalez adds. Pick up a copy of the book to find out what that plan should look like.