2012 will be remembered as the year that the giant awoke. Hispanics accounted for 10 percent of the total vote in the November elections, and leaned mostly (73 percent) toward the Democratic Party. For most analysts, the Hispanic vote was decisive in the reelection of President Barack Obama.
That voting percentage converged two factors: rapid population growth (to which I referred in a previous post) and the largest Latino voter participation. Neither explains, however, the overwhelming inclination of Hispanics toward the Democratic Party.
Since they met the election results, several analysts have tried to find the reasons for this inclination. And one of the most frequent explanations has been the position that the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, had with respect to immigration.
Two days after the election, Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post:
"The main reason [the Hispanics] go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney made the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Could Romney never successfully tack back."
For him, therefore, the solution is easy:
"For the [Republican] party in general, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe -- legal full normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement."
Although the Republican position regarding immigration may have influenced the outcome of the elections, Krauthammer's explanation (and that of other analysts who share his point of view) is too simplistic, as was clearly stated in a later article by Tino Sanandaji.
Sanandaji, an economist graduated from the University of Chicago and a Research Fellow at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, wrote in last November an article entitled Why Natural Hispanics are Democrats and what the GOP can do about it.
Besides being controversial -- it goes against the Reaganian idea held by Krauthammer that Latinos are Republicans by nature, but they do not know -- the article abounds in arguments to try to prove, as I too believe, that the position on immigration was not the key factor in the Republican defeat.
Moreover, according to Sanandaji, immigration reform could deepen GOP problems because it could increase the Latino voter base significantly. And for him the Latino voters are Natural Democrats for different economic and social reasons -- and the results of the last nine elections are a proof.
"The main reason," says Sanandaji, who in this agrees with Mitt Romney's unfortunate reference to 47% of Americans who wouldn't vote for him in any way, "is that Hispanics on average earn far less than Whites... It is simply not in self-interests Hispanic materials to vote for the party of limited government."
Citing census data, Sanandaji says, "42 percent of Hispanics are poor or near-poor", and that "not surprisingly, Hispanics are ideologically more likely than average to agree with a big-government philosophy."
Sanandaji refers to several issues on which Latinos are on the side of democrats (and the big-government): increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, the quest for a universal social security, strengthening public education, gun control, the environmental protection...
The researcher does not dwell, however, on the reasons why Latinos are so liberal on these issues. My hypothesis is that it has much to do with a concept closely linked to their direct experience or with their ancestral heritage, reinforced by their religious beliefs: the social justice.
Social justice is one of the three pillars to resolve that John Maynard Keynes, the great twentieth-century English economist, called "the political problem of mankind" in his famous essay "Liberalism and Labour" (1926). The other two are economic efficiency and individual liberty.
The vast majority of Latino immigrants come from countries characterized by deep economic inequality, high levels of poverty, low education, limited access to health, almost total disdain for the care of the environment and corruption that swallows much of public resources.
For economic migrants the "American Dream" is embodied on issues related to social justice: job availability, guaranteed access to health and education, efficient and affordable public services, clear rules, transparent and timely justice. For them, government is much more than a subsidy: it is the guarantor of equal opportunity.
That is the way most Latinos see the issue, and is the way how see it other minorities -- Asians, blacks, women, young people, gays: more than protection, in paternalistic sense, they need guarantees.
The issue of migrants could affect the outcome of the last elections, but the problem is more thorough, and demographic changes are highlighting it. Therefore, the crossroads for the GOP is bigger than many believe.