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The Big Gap for the GOP

The key to the White House lies in Hispanic voter's hands.

James Katz

Naked Politics Blogger

The Republicans face an uphill battle if they are to win back the White House in November 2016. Although we do not know for sure which candidates will fight out the General Election and we do not necessarily know what the big issues will be, what we do know is that Hillary Clinton will be very tough to beat. She has experience at home and abroad and will be a truly formidable candidate. The Republicans will have to see a number of factors align to stand a chance, according to both political common sense and current polling. Some of those factors are out of their hands but importantly one of them is purely up to the party – who to have as their candidate.

In 1984 Ronald Reagan claimed, “Hispanics are already Republicans, they just don’t know it.” It is fair to say that in the 2012, they certainly did not know it – 71% of Hispanic/Latino voters voted for Barack Obama. If a Republican is to win in the 2016 Presidential election a big shift in the vote share produced by this demographic is required. The issue of the Hispanic vote is far more pressing for the Republicans than simply the outcome of the 2016 election – this vote could be a crucial pivot in the future of the Republican party as a relevant entity in Presidential elections.

The Hispanic population is currently around 55 million, or 17.4% of the American population; which represents a higher percentage than black Americans. The need to perform with this section of society is clearly crucial not just for the simple matter that they represent a lot of votes, but it is the forecasts of how the Hispanic population will grow. It is predicted by the US Census department that in 2060 there will be 119 million people of Hispanic origin, representing 29% of the population. If one of the parties can appeal to the Hispanic community as successfully as Obama did, then the pendulum of political power will swing hugely towards that party. If this happened, whoever lost out would require a substantial change in policy or style in an attempt to win over a different section of society.

This point is particularly emphasised when the formation of Presidential elections is taken into account. In America, a voting system called the Electoral College is used; this means that there are actually 50 elections in the 50 different states with whoever wins in each state getting a certain number of Electoral College votes that correspond to the population of that state. For instance California, the state with the biggest population has 55 Electoral College votes whilst the least populous states like Rhode Island or Delaware carrying only 3. The last number of elections have only really been fought in a handful of key states that can swing from one party to another rather than routinely going to one of the parties. Some of these massively important swing states are currently heavily affected by the Hispanic vote whilst others are likely to be increasingly populated with people of Hispanic origin. Both Florida and Colorado are key swing states and both have a large Hispanic population, whilst the crucial states of North Carolina and Virginia will likely have a growing proportion of Hispanic voters in the future. All four of these swing states carry a substantial number of Electoral College votes (particularly Florida). Political power is so finely balance in these states; the ability to win the votes of the Hispanic community may be the difference between success and failure for the whole election.

Clearly it is not possible to treat the Hispanic community as a single entity – it is a diverse and changing community – but the size of the margin Obama won in the Hispanic demographic seems to suggest that he, and the Democrats, struck upon a way to appeal to a good majority of them. Although either party could try to appeal to the Hispanic vote via policy – education and health care rank highly as important issues in the Hispanic community according to the Pew Research Centre – a more direct, if more materialistic, method could be to appoint a Hispanic candidate to impassion Hispanic people in a similar way to how Barack Obama energised the African-American community. Enter Marco Rubio.

Marco Rubio is a highly credible Cuban-born Hispanic Republican candidate who, in his relatively short political history, has won a number of elections as the tenacious underdog and furthermore, he will be able to consolidate, energise and mobilise the Republican grassroots thanks to his strong socially conservative record. With these electoral strengths, which might be particularly vital in 2016 and the chance to claim a large percentage of the Hispanic vote means Rubio has a chance to win next year. But even if he were to lose the chance to position the Republicans as the party of Hispanic people might be crucial for the future of American politics.

The difference between who Hispanics vote for in Congressional elections is far smaller than it is for Presidential elections and so the Republicans will not fall from importance all together. However, America is changing. The coming years may see the American population change a great deal in a whole variety of ways and so now is the opportune time to realise Reagan’s prophecy about Hispanic voters. Rubio may not be able to deliver the GOP the White House for the next four years, Clinton may be too strong a candidate to beat, but he might be able to give them a much better chance of winning Presidential elections over the next forty years. For that reason the Republicans should nominate Marco Rubio. Whether or not they will is yet to be seen.

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