After six months of mulling over November’s election results, many Republicans remain convinced that the party’s only path to future victory is to improve the GOP’s appeal to Hispanic voters. But how many Hispanic voters do Republicans need to attract before the party can again win the White House?
A lot. Start with the 2012 exit polls. The New York Times’ Nate Silver has created an interactive tool in which one can look at the presidential election results and calculate what would have happened if the racial and ethnic mix of voters had been different. The tool also allows one to project future results based on any number of scenarios in which the country’s demographic profile and voting patterns change.
In 2012, President Obama famously won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. If all other factors remained the same, how large a percentage of the Hispanic vote would Romney have had to win to capture the White House?
What if Romney had won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, the high-water mark for Republicans achieved by George W. Bush in 2004? As it turns out, if Romney had hit that Bush mark, he still would have lost, with 240 electoral votes to 298 for Obama.
But what if Romney had been able to make history and attract 50 percent of Hispanic voters? What then? He still would have been beaten, 283 electoral votes to 255.
What if Romney had been able to do something absolutely astonishing for a Republican and win 60 percent of the Hispanic vote? He would have lost by the same margin, 283 electoral votes to 255.
But what if Romney had been able to reach a mind-blowing 70 percent of the Hispanic vote? Surely that would have meant victory, right? No, it wouldn’t. Romney still would have lost, although by the narrowest of electoral margins, 270 to 268. (Under that scenario, Romney would have won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College; he could have racked up huge numbers of Hispanic votes in California, New York and Texas, for example, and not changed the results in those states.)
According to the Times’ calculator, Romney would have had to win 73 percent of the Hispanic vote to prevail in 2012. Which suggests that Romney, and Republicans, had bigger problems than Hispanic voters.
The most serious of those problems was that Romney was not able to connect with white voters who were so turned off by the campaign that they abandoned the GOP and in many cases stayed away from the polls altogether. Recent reports suggest as many as 5 million white voters simply stayed home on Election Day. If they had voted at the same rate they did in 2004, even with the demographic changes since then, Romney would have won.
Likewise, the white vote is so large that an improvement of 4 points — going from 60 percent to 64 percent of those whites who did vote — would have won the race for Romney.
So which would have been a more realistic goal for Romney — matching the white turnout from just a few years earlier, or winning 73 percent of Hispanic voters?
Everyone knows the Hispanic vote will grow in the future. But if 2012 voting patterns remain the same — whites voting in lower numbers but about 60 percent for Republicans, blacks and Asians turning out in large numbers and voting 90-plus percent and 70-plus percent, respectively, for Democrats — Republicans will have to win an astonishingly high percentage of the Hispanic vote to capture the White House.
It is simply not reasonable to believe there is something the GOP can do — pass immigration reform, juice up voter-outreach efforts — that will create that result.
That doesn’t mean future Republican presidential candidates should not work to increase their share of the Hispanic vote. They could, for example, actually campaign in areas with large numbers of Hispanic voters.
But here is the real solution. Romney lost because he did not appeal to the millions of Americans who have seen their standard of living decline over the past decades. They’re nervous about the future. When Romney did not address their concerns, they either voted for Obama or didn’t vote at all. If the next Republican candidate can address their concerns effectively, he will win. And, amazingly enough, he’ll win a lot more Hispanic votes in the process. A lot from other groups, too.
It would do more than any immigration bill or outreach program ever could.