Anlysis: GOP vote orthodoxy shy on facts

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent  |  Dec. 1, 2002 at 5:28 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- An orthodox analysis of the November election has been gradually emerging since Nov. 5. It holds that a major reason for the GOP victory was that they made significant inroads into the Hispanic and other minority votes and that this shows that their much-publicized stress on winning such votes was correct.

For example, the Washington Post's report of a panel discussion by party strategists at last weekend's Republican governors' conference began, "Republicans built their midterm election victories by winning the suburban vote, expanding support among Hispanics and holding down the Democrats' share of the union vote ... "

Likewise, in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, Tamar Jacoby highlighted Republican New York Gov. George Pataki's strong showing among Hispanics. (Jacoby failed to remind her right-wing readers, however, that Pataki had moved so far to the left that he had earned the endorsement of the liberal New York Times.)

Many analysts have taken this case further and argued that to win even more minority votes, the GOP should once again promote amnesty for illegal aliens and other such policies, as it had been strongly doing before Sept. 11.

Daniel T. Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute argued in the conservative National Review Online that the results of the election demonstrated that the GOP should adopt a more immigration-friendly policy in order to reap an "immediate windfall" of Mexican-American votes. Griswold argued that this would be worth it, even at the cost of long-term diminishment of Republican fortunes as pro-Democratic immigrants tipped the demographic balance of the country.

These analyses, though widely accepted, are largely false. They reflect not the election results but pre-election analyses. In 2001, GOP pollster Matthew Dowd told the Washington Post, "Republicans have to increase their percentage among blacks and certainly among Hispanics. As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between 13 and 15 percent of the black vote and 38 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote." (George W. Bush had won only 9 percent of the black vote and 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to the 2000 Voter News Service exit poll of 13,130 voters.)

When Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, less than 10 percent of his votes came from minorities. So, it's easy to see why many commentators assumed that the GOP would have to win more votes from minorities to win in the future.

In 2002, however, in all likelihood the GOP drew an even smaller share of its support from minorities. Yet, the Republicans triumphed at the polls, winning about 53 percent of the two-party vote.

No single poll result should be trusted, especially this year when the collapse of the VNS national exit poll made analysts' jobs even harder.

Still, a wide variety of results from both state and small-scale national polls suggest that the non-Hispanic white share of the total vote was up in 2002 over 2000 and thus the minority share was down. Further, Republican candidates may have won a larger share of the white vote than in 2000.

Most of the rising-tide-of-minority forecasts such as Dowd's were off the mark in 2002 because they implicitly assumed that while minority voting blocs were automatically growing, the white turnout was fixed.

In reality, with the low voter turnout that is endemic in modern America, in every election there are tens of millions of people who just might vote this time if they feel motivated enough. Indeed, widespread press reports after the election showed that whites proved responsive to the president's strong stand on national security and to the Republican get-out-the-vote ground game.

For example, the early-November Gallup Poll, which got the final margin exactly right, predicted the turnout rate for Republicans voters (who are over 90 percent white) would be 43 percent, compared with 36 percent for Democrats (who were about 70 percent white in 2000).

We have Election Day poll results from 11 states. The traditional L.A. Times exit poll surveyed 3,444 voters in California. Fox News polled by phone about 900 voters in each of 10 states. In these 11 states, the average white share increased by 2 points over the 2000 Voter News Service exit poll findings. Growth was seen in states such as Florida (+9 points), Colorado (+5), Missouri (+4), and California (+3). The most important white decline was in Texas and that was just 2 points.

Also, these pre-election commentators who claimed that the GOP had to win more minority votes presumed that while more nonwhites could be converted to Republicanism, the GOP could not capture a larger share of the white electorate than in 2000, when Bush took only 54 percent. (In contrast, his father had won 59 percent of whites in 1988 when he easily beat Michael Dukakis.)

The pre-election Gallup Poll showed the GOP taking 58 percent of the white vote. The post-election Greenberg survey of 2,100 white voters saw the Republicans winning 55 percent.

Finally, it can be hard to remember just how much larger the white bloc is than any single minority bloc. According to the huge post-election phone survey of 50,000 households by the Census Bureau, in 2000 whites cast 81 percent of all votes. This was 15 times larger than the 5.4 percent cast by Hispanics.

Consider Dowd's widely cited analysis quantitatively. If Bush in 2000 had raised his fraction of the African-American vote (which comprised 11.5 percent of the electorate in 2000 according to the Census Bureau) from 9 percent to 15 percent, that would have improved his overall total vote by about 0.69 percentage points. Even less significantly, the 3- to 5-point gain among Hispanics (5.4 percent of all voters in 2000) that Dowd insisted upon would have added 0.16 to 0.27 percentage points to Bush's total take.

In fact, most of the Bush administration's minority outreach program -- such as its negotiations with the Mexican government over amnesty for Mexican illegal aliens -- was focused solely on Mexican Hispanics. They cast only 3.0 percent of the total 2000 vote, or 1/27th of the white vote.

Thus, tiny changes in a party's performance among whites can easily outweigh in importance sizable changes among nonwhites.

Latino turnout, often assumed to be an ever-rising tide, did not appear to be strong this year. It fell in California from 13 percent to 10 percent (according to the L.A. Times exit poll), in Florida from 11 percent to 7 percent, in Colorado from 14 percent to 10 percent, and in New Jersey, from 5 percent to 4 percent. It was up 2 points in Texas. (These are from Fox and are compared to the 2000 VNS presidential election exit poll).

Leaving aside turnout, how did Republicans do among those Hispanics who did show up and vote?

Compared to 2000 when George W. Bush won about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, Republican candidates appeared to be down somewhat in Texas and New Jersey, roughly unchanged in California and Colorado, up somewhat in Florida, and up a lot in New York. (These estimates are from comparing the 2002 L.A. Times and Fox polls to the 2000 VNS poll. The New York estimate is the work of John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, as cited in the New York Times.) There are no figures at present for three other states with sizable Hispanic populations -- Illinois, Arizona, and New Mexico -- but the Democrats won the gubernatorial race in each.

Whether the GOP did better or worse overall among Hispanics compared to 2000 is unknown. It would hardly be surprising if they did a little better, since the GOP did more than 3 points better overall. Whatever the trend was, though, it does not appear to have been all that significant.

In Texas, a debate is going on over the Republican candidates' share of that state's relatively conservative Latino vote. A Latino activist group claimed that the GOP garnered only 10 percent, but that appears unlikely. The independent Zogby and Fox surveys suggest 30 percent to 35 percent. While better for Republicans than California, where gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon netted 24 percent of Latinos, this is down from George W. Bush's 43 percent of Texan Hispanics in the 2000 VNS exit poll.

Of course, the Republicans did not win the Texas gubernatorial and senatorial elections by losing 2-to-1 among Hispanics. No, they won those by capturing about 70 percent of the white vote (according to Fox). In other words, in Texas, Hispanics voted 35 percent to 40 points less Republican than whites did, which is a much larger gap than in liberal California, where the white-Latino difference was only 22 points. The GOP lost the California governor's race because it garnered only 46 percent of the white vote.

Even in Florida, where Jeb Bush has won plaudits for capturing 56 percent of the Hispanic vote (by the Fox poll's reckoning) in a state where Hispanics (led by anti-Communist Cubans) traditionally have sided with the Republicans, the GOP's dependence on whites actually grew. According to the last Voter News Service exit poll, 11 percent of George W.'s votes in Florida's famous 2000 election were cast by Hispanics, vs. only 7 percent of Jeb's votes this year.

That's because Fox found that the white share of Florida turnout surged from 73 percent to 82 percent of all voters. Further, Jeb won 60 percent of the white vote, vs. 57 percent for his brother.

Why was there so much discussion in the press before the election of Republican outreach efforts toward relatively small nonwhite blocs, yet there was so little focus on the enormous white bloc, which comprises more than four-fifth of the electorate? This bias led to little pre-election coverage of the GOP's now-famous "72-hour plan" for getting out the vote in white Republican neighborhoods.

In modern America, it is common for politicians to publicly announce their plans for targeting minority voting blocs, but not the white majority, perhaps because for fear that would be seen as vaguely racist. Politicians still pursue whites, of course, but this taboo on public discussion means that journalism about the demographics of the electorate is often ill informed or unrealistic. A cynic might suggest that Bush adviser Karl Rove's much-publicized obsession with the Hispanic vote provided a perfect cover during the two years before the election for his successful plans to harvest the white vote.

The same point can also be put non-cynically: if the GOP wishes to win more votes, it would be foolish to appeal to whites as whites. Not only would this be likely to drive non-whites away; it would also backfire by driving away those whites, these days the great majority, who are highly sensitive to imputations of racism. If the GOP is to prosper among all groups, its best bet may be to eschew "identity" politics altogether (especially since voters leaning to the Democrats are more likely to be energized by such appeals) and appeal to the voters as Americans. "United We Stand" may therefore have been an unintended GOP election slogan.

Did the election results validate Rove's public strategy of pursuing Mexican-American votes via an amnesty for Mexican illegal aliens? "I didn't see anybody emphasizing immigration to their benefit in these elections," George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, told the Washington Times.

The administration's plan for an amnesty for illegal aliens, of which the president had spoken vaguely but enthusiastically during the summer of 2001, was placed on the back burner after the terrorist attacks, to the growing outrage of Mexican President Vicente Fox, who lashed out in frustration against the Bush administration this September. During the campaign, Republicans studiously avoided mentioning amnesty.

In contrast, on Oct. 10, 2002, Democratic House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., introduced an "Earned Legalization and Family Reunification" amnesty bill.

Soon after the election, Tony Garza, the new ambassador to Mexico, told reporters in Mexico City that the White House supported a new amnesty plan. This one, however, was so much more limited than the one discussed before Sept. 11 that it may reflect a more chastened view in the White House of the political pitfalls that increased immigration poses for Republicans. According to Garza, it would apply to only 12 percent to 15 percent of Mexican illegal aliens in America, and their right to bring in their relatives would be cut back. They would not get citizenship ... and thus could not vote.

Secretary of State Colin Powell then appeared to backpedal even from that plan, advising the Mexican government to be patient. Interestingly, Powell pointed to the Republican victories as a reason amnesty would have to wait.

Even before Sept. 11, however, the Mexican amnesty plan was running into trouble in Congress, according to a Washington Times report. Many Republican lawmakers quietly voiced strong doubts.

Why has amnesty proven so much more popular among Democratic than Republican politicians?

Griswold of the Cato Institute suggested that the GOP could permanently boost its share among Hispanic voters with "a more friendly approach to immigration." Yet, the historical record shows little evidence for that.

Hispanics have voted solidly, but not overwhelmingly, for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election beginning with John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign. Perhaps the high water market for Republicans since the Eisenhower years was Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide, when he is said to have carried about 38 percent to 40 percent of Hispanic voters.

In 1986, Reagan signed into law a massive amnesty for illegal aliens. Yet, in 1988, his vice president, George H. W. Bush, dropped to 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to VNS. And in 1992, the elder Bush took 25 percent. (In general, the GOP's Hispanic share rises and falls roughly in line with its overall performance, just at a lower level.)

Further, Republican Hispanics tend to be quite liberal on the tax and spend issues that Griswold's Cato Institute cares so much about. The Pew and Kaiser foundations joined up to conduct a survey of 1,329 registered Latino voters earlier this year. Only 20 percent identified as Republicans, compared to 49 percent as Democrats. (In contrast, 37 percent of whites identify themselves as Republicans vs. 24 percent who identify themselves as Democrats.)

The survey's analysts found, "Registered Latinos who identify as Republicans take a much more liberal stand on taxes and the size of government than their white counterparts ... About half (52 percent) of registered Latinos who identified themselves as Republicans said they would rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government, while only 17 percent of white Republicans stated that view." In fact, on this question, Hispanic Republicans were slightly more liberal than white Democrats.

That probably explains why the only Republican breakthrough among Hispanics was in New York, where Pataki moved far to the left. The New York Times reported before the election, "In short, the governor is running in the Nov. 5 election as a liberal ... "

Finally, and perhaps most importantly to Republicans, there is a downside to championing amnesty for illegal aliens and other "immigration-friendly" policies: they have never been popular with the general public. A Gallup Poll released on Sept. 6, 2001 at the height of the Bush-Fox push for amnesty, found "two-thirds of Americans think that the United States should not do anything to facilitate citizenship for illegal immigrants." In fact, a significant (but of course smaller) fraction of Latino voters favor lower immigration, especially illegal immigration. And the likelihood is that these are the "natural" Republicans in the Hispanic electorate.

The danger to the White House of pursuing a widely disliked program like amnesty is that it risks turning off potential Republican voters. Since there are 27 white voters for every Mexican-American voter, even an almost imperceptible negative response by whites can outweigh a wave of enthusiasm among Mexican-Americans.

All in all, before crafting their next election appeal, Republican strategists would be well advised to analyze their own analyses with a skeptical eye.

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