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The 1984 presidential election was conservative America’s greatest triumph.Ronald Reagan won every state except Walter Mondale’s Minnesota. Yet here is an astonishing fact.
If you break down the votes by ethnic group, and then apply them to the altered demographics of America in 2012, Mondale takes the White House.
US Republicans can’t win without – to be blunt – attracting many more Latino voters. Before the last election, they were sanguine enough about their chances.
It is not unusual for immigrants to vote for Left-of-Centre parties, and the calculation was that Hispanic Americans would abandon the Left as they became more established.
Reagan used to quip that Latinos were Republicans who just didn’t know it yet, and George W Bush polled well enough among voters of Mexican descent.
Yet 71 per cent of Hispanic voters backed Obama last month. Republicans face the disquieting prospect that Democrat leanings might go with being Hispanic – rather than with being young, low-earning or a first-generation American.
Ethnic voting, after all, is not unusual. Jewish Americans lean two-to-one to the Democrats, in defiance of most of the rest of their demographic data. In the late Martin Himmelfarb’s famous lament, ‘Jews earn like Episcopalians, vote like Puerto Ricans’.
But Jews are less than two per cent of the US electorate. The real disaster for Republicans is that Puerto Ricans vote like Puerto Ricans – as do Colombians, Mexicans, Hondurans, Ecuadoreans, Nicaraguans and the rest.
The GOP faces a problem common to Right-of-Centre parties around the world. Immigrant communities, despite the initiative required to relocate to another country, and despite their often conservative values when it comes to enterprise, self-reliance, family and so on, tend to gravitate to the Left.
I can think of only one major contemporary exception to that rule, and it’s a telling one. At the last Canadian election, the Conservatives won more votes from immigrants than from people born in Canada. How? Not by changing their policies on immigration or multi-culturalism, but by sheer, grinding hard work.
Canada’s Tories grasped that most immigrants lived, at least initially, in areas represented by Left-of-Centre politicians. Because these politicians were the their first contact with Canadian politics, they tended to define the terms in which newcomers viewed the different parties. First impressions count.
The achievement of the Canadian Conservatives was to put themselves where the migrants were: in the community centres, in the mosques and temples, at the festivals. And to do so, not once or twice, but continuously over many years, until those communities began, in the phrase of the brilliant Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, ‘to vote their values’.
It’s one thing to recognise what needs to be done. It’s quite another to get your party to put in the kind of long-term work needed. If I were a Republican strategist, I’d get started now on building up conservative Spanish-language news media: Noticias Zorro, but with soap operas.
I’d be thinking about a properly llamativo 2016 ticket: Rubio–Martinez, say. (And I’d be unembarrassed about using words like llamativo.) Above all, though, I’d be pouring resources at local level into making early contact with Spanish-speaking newcomers, offering tax advice, running language courses, setting up business support centres.
In Britain, my own party is starting from further behind, having already lost an entire generation of immigrant voters. All the more reason, then, to get cracking.