Phyllis Schlafly is very sure that the acceptance of new immigrants, legal or otherwise, and particularly those of Latino or Hispanic background, will mean more liberal voters and so the end of our nation. I don’t share her sense of impending doom.

George P. Bush

George P. Bush is an Hispanic Republican

Schlafly cites a 2012 study from the Pew Hispanic Center when she says that “75 percent of Hispanics prefer a ‘bigger government providing more services,’ and only 19 percent prefer a smaller government.” The same study states that “53 percent of Hispanics have a negative view of capitalism.” In 2008, the “National Annenberg Election Survey found that 62 percent of immigrants prefer a single, government-run health-care system.” She even cites Professor George Hawley of the University of Alabama who admits that recent immigrants trend to more liberal positions.

She concludes, then, that “everyone else who has looked at the polls comes to the conclusion that significant majorities of immigrants and their children are big-government liberals.”

Well, not everyone.

I think Schlafly and many Republicans are suffering from a kind of myopia that comes from having lost two straight presidential elections. Schlafly is right that passing immigration reform will not win them elections in the near future. The polling data seems to support that. But passing it probably won’t cost them elections in the near future either, not with so much antipathy for all things Obama from the Republican base. The question is about the long term.

Another Look at the Data

Let me point out a thing or two about Hispanic voters. Hispanics might prefer “big government” with more services, but they also believe in hard work. When asked “Can most people get ahead with hard work?” 78% of Hispanics said that most can. That’s compared to just 58% of the general U.S. population. And it suggests that Hispanics believe more in hard work than they do in government hand outs.

When asked how they compare the U.S. to their own country, Hispanics believe that there is greater opportunity to get ahead here in the U.S., that the U.S. is better for raising children, that the U.S. has better morals and that the poor here are already being treated well.

When describing their political views, Ms. Schlafly fails to report that more Hispanics describe themselves as conservative or moderate than they do liberal. Indeed, amongst foreign born Hispanics 35% self-identify as conservative, 30% as moderate and only 27% as liberal. What those terms mean in the mind of the Hispanic voter is a legitimate question, but those were the parameters put within the study, and that shouldn’t be ignored.*

Still, let’s look at the question on big government. Pew asked: Would you “rather have a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger government providing more services.” Ms. Schlafly is right that 75% wanted bigger government, but she didn’t tell you that with each generation, Hispanics grow less and less fond of bigger government.

Traditional Family life is important to Hispanics.

Traditional Family life is important to Hispanics.

What’s more, what possible concept of “bigger government” does the foreign born Hispanic really have? “Bigger” is a comparative term after all. Bigger than what? Bigger than the barely functional governments they fled to come here? Bigger than the banana republic dictatorships they’ve experienced over decades? Who wouldn’t want that?

Anyone who’s lived overseas or in Latin America has new eyes when they return to the U.S. and have to go through the DMV. We complain, but compared to other nations, the DMV is the height of bureaucratic efficiency.

Also, the way the question was asked in the study makes it sound to me like they’re asking, would you rather have more things done for you or fewer things? Who would say no? No wonder only 19% said they wanted smaller government.

The limited government question and the response is not insignificant, but for Schlafly and others to point to it as demonstrable proof that Hispanics are liberals is misleading at best. The larger picture from the Pew study is:

  • Hispanics believe in hard work and the reality of upward mobility;
  • Less than a third of Hispanics self-identify as liberals, whereas over a third self-identify as conservative, particularly those who are foreign-born;
  • Hispanics believe our country is a great place of opportunity, high in morals, already generous to the poor and great for raising a family;
  • Hispanics also attend religious services weekly at greater rates than the rest of the population with 61% saying that their religion is important in their lives, which outpaces the general population;
  • Hispanics are more pro-life.

An Opportunity Not A Danger

Schlafly points to Professor George Hawley for support. He shows that in recent elections, Hispanics have voted in favor of Democratic candidates over Republican. That’s a fact. Dr. Hawley also notes in his study titled “Issue Voting and Immigration: Do Restrictionist Policies Cost Congressional Republican Votes?” that there is little reason to believe that Hispanics will start voting for Republicans because they start to pass immigration reform.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio is an Hispanic Republican

Dr. Hawley states elsewhere that “immigrants support the Democratic Party in greater numbers than they support the Republican Party for reasons other than immigration.” In other words, it seems that positions on immigration policy will not significantly affect the way Latinos vote. For this reason he argues that liberalizing immigration will be mean liberalizing the nation.

There are two take-aways the way I see it. If Republicans are seeking to win Hispanic votes by passing immigration reform, they’re barking up the wrong tree. But of course this ought not be the only reason why Republicans work towards reform. There are moral and economic reasons to do so as well.

Second, Hispanic voters tend to support Democrats not because of immigration but because of other issues. What are those issues? My guess, given the big picture the Pew study gives, is that they are probably the same issues that motivate white, blue-collar voters to vote Democratic. They are probably the same issues that characterized the so-called Reagan Democrats. They are kitchen table issues about taxes, jobs, the plight of the working poor, their kids’ education, national defense, the economy and a sense that the government cares.

I see the Reagan Democrat as a pragmatist at the end of the day. They’re not concerned with ideologies or classical approaches to political philosophy. Big government vs. limited government is just rhetoric. They’re asking concrete questions: Where is my job? Why am I not getting a raise to match the inflation which is already here (pace Paul Krugman)? Why is my kid taking expensive remedial classes to do well in college? What the hell is happening to my health insurance? Can’t anyone do something about the high price of gasoline? Why is milk $4 a gallon?

Republicans have the opportunity, thanks to the completely inept administration of President Obama, to win on these issues. These are all issues which place Hispanics in the moderate category more than the progressive. And we should note that only until recently – namely a couple speeches by Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan – have Republicans been talking about the working poor. Rubio’s brilliant speech on poverty has it right:

Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American Dream. And our current government programs, offer at best only a partial solution. They help people deal with poverty, but they do not help them escape it.

Republicans, then, have a golden opportunity. With a country reeling from the evidence of big government failure, now is the time for Republicans to step forward and claim the cause of the little guy. Take back the Reagan Democrats who have been so desparate for a party that cares as much for them as it does for college coeds who want free contraception and for wealthy gay men who want to marry. Now’s their chance.

Even if immigration reform is passed, Dr. Hawley admits, we don’t know how these new immigrants will vote. We can make an educated guess, but we don’t know for sure. After all, the Senate plan would have allowed for citizenship for new immigrants 13 years from passage of the act at the earliest. Thirteen years is an epoch in politics.

So the equation Schlafly and the rest put forward, i.e. that more immigration equals more Democrats, is true only if Republicans are lazy or stupid or both. Political leadership is supposed to be about convincing, cajoling and inspiring your fellow citizens. So instead of writing off Hispanics, why not convince them the same way that Reagan convinced those blue-collar Democrats?

Gov. Susana Martinez is an Hispanic Republican

Gov. Susana Martinez is an Hispanic Republican

Why not try to do for all Hispanics what Republicans in New Mexico did with now Governor Susana Martinez, who, over one lunch, was convinced that she and her husband had been Republicans all along?

Ideas like those put forward by Sen. Marco Rubio about jobs and education and poverty are how to win Hispanic voters. During his campaign, California State Representative Andy Vidak had his people canvas the district and sit down around the kitchen table of Hispanic families to talk about real struggles. As a result of that effort, he garnered twice an many Hispanic votes as any Republican had gotten. It was the “bread and butter” that got people’s attention.

The future is far from a foregone conclusion. And the past can give us hope. While Kennedy and LBJ got 85% and 90% of the Hispanic votes in the 60’s, Al Gore only got 67% of the vote in 2000. Republicans should screw up their courage and their moral sensibility and pass reform so that they can spend the next ten years and more influencing Hispanic voters with language that appeals to their strong sense of family, morals, faith and economic prosperity. Now’s the time to do it.


* It is interesting to note from this study that while more Hispanics self-identify as Democrats than they do as Republicans, more Hispanics self-identify as independent or Republican than they do as Democrats.


Omar Gutierrez writes from Omaha, NE. His new book, The Urging of Christ’s Love:The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church can be purchased through respectable online book sellers.