By Jennifer Peltz and Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press
By John McCormick and Todd Shields
CHICAGO — If demographics are destiny, Democrats are positioned to dominate national politics until Republicans can attract Hispanic voters who shunned their party in the presidential election.
“It’s a huge issue. It’s a big reason why they lost states like Virginia, Florida and Colorado,” said William Frey, a senior demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “As Hispanics continue to disperse to the South and West — Republican strongholds — the party becomes increasingly at risk.”
As Hispanics make up more of the U.S. population, they also are transforming the country’s politics. In this election, Latino voters represented 10 percent of the electorate, up from 9 percent four years ago.
President Barack Obama captured 71 percent of the Hispanic vote as he won a second term, according to a national exit poll. That translated to a 44 percentage-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — down from Republican shares of 31 percent in 2008, 44 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000.
Beyond the presidential race, 28 Latinos won House seats, including three who defeated Republican incumbents, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund said in a statement. The results added four Hispanic members to the House, creating the largest class of Latino lawmakers, the group said. In the Senate, Hispanics gained a seat with a victory by Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
The survey of voters was conducted as they were leaving polling places, as well as by telephone to measure the preferences of those who voted before the election. The polling was done for the television networks and the Associated Press by Edison Research. Results for the full national sample were subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and higher for subgroups.
“If I were giving advice to the Republican Party, I would say: Work with the Obama administration and get immigration off the table by dealing with it now,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based NALEO, a membership organization. “Unless there is comprehensive immigration reform this will continue to come up over and over again, and become the Republican Party’s Achilles heel.”
Matthew Dowd, a political analyst for Bloomberg News, said Republican President George H.W. Bush and his son, former President George W. Bush, also would have struggled to win amid the composition of the 2012 electorate, which had the lowest level of white voters on record at 72 percent.
“They would lose,” Dowd said on Bloomberg Television Wednesday.
To see the emerging importance of the non-white vote, Republicans need look no further than hospital birthing units.
Minority babies outnumbered white newborns in 2011 for the first time in U.S. history. The percentage of non-white newborns rose to 50.4 percent of children younger than a year old from April 2010 to July 2011, while non-Hispanic whites fell to 49.6 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said in May.
“After 2012, the white vote in American shrinks to about 68 percent, and there’s no path to the White House without a significant Hispanic vote,” Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and an ambassador under President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview.
The figures highlight the rapid growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations, both of which have surged by more than 40 percent since 2000. Hispanics were 16.7 percent of the population in July 2011 and Asians were 4.8 percent. The black population has grown 12.9 percent since 2000 and makes up 12.3 percent of the nation. Non-Hispanic whites rose only 1.5 percent from 2000 to 2011, slower than the national growth of 9.7 percent, and are now 63.4 percent of the population.
Four states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas, plus the District of Columbia — now have majority-minority populations. A 2009 Census report estimated that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the total population after the 2040 Census, making up 48.5 percent in 2045.
Blacks and Asians joined Hispanics in strongly backing Obama. Nationally, non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate, up from 26 percent in 2008, the exit polls showed. Obama won 93 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Asians.
In Ohio, blacks were 15 percent of the electorate, up from 11 percent in 2008. Hispanics in Florida were 17 percent of the electorate, up from 14 percent in 2008.
Obama sealed his victory partly by amassing big victories in heavily Hispanic pockets of swing states including Florida. Hispanic population growth helps explain why California and New Jersey are Democratic strongholds and no longer competitive in White House elections, and why Texas may someday shift from its one-party Republicanism.
“Within the next six to eight years, I believe Texas will be at least be a purple state if not a blue state,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said on CNN Thursday, referring to the colors that political commentators assign to independent-leaning and Democratic-leaning states.
In Miami-Dade County, where more than 1.6 million Hispanics live, Obama increased his vote share to 62 percent from 58 percent in 2008, the president’s biggest jump in any Florida county. Most of Miami-Dade’s Hispanics are Cuban, a bloc in which younger people vote more Democratic than older ones whose Republican ties were forged partly around an opposition to Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former president.
Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, said that the Republican Party has “justifiably earned a very, very low reputation among Latinos” because of its use of immigration issues to “really vilify the Latino immigrant.”
Some of the blame for the Hispanic gap can be leveled at Romney. During the Republican primary contest, the former Massachusetts governor stressed his opposition to giving legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring that they leave the U.S., advocating a program he described as “self-deportation.”
“Immigration has become a wedge issue and a litmus test, a litmus test of respect and caring,” said Cardenas, who served two terms as chairman of Florida’s Republican Party. “So we need to get immigration reform done to finally get rid of that wedge issue that’s been afflicting our party for 10 or 15 years.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whom Romney considered as a running mate, is one politician the Republican Party has tried to showcase as it works to appeal to Hispanics.
The Cuban-American introduced Romney at the party’s nominating convention in August. Rubio, 41, is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. The senator’s spokesman said he wasn’t available for interviews.
Obama’s announcement in June that the United States would no longer deport undocumented residents brought to the country as children also helped the incumbent with Hispanics.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register before the election, Obama predicted that Hispanic voters would help put him over the top in the election, and that their support would help win passage of immigration overhaul legislation next year.
“A big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” Obama said.
In Nevada, the most heavily Hispanic presidential swing state at 27 percent, Obama’s 100,000-vote victory in Clark County, which is 29 percent Hispanic, made up for losses to Romney elsewhere in the state.
Obama won 56 percent of the vote in Colorado’s Adams County, where the Hispanic population in suburbs near Denver rose to 38 percent from 28 percent a decade ago. Pueblo County in southern Colorado is more than 41 percent Hispanic, and the president took 55 percent there.
Republican politicians “are in a hole” because they used affirmative action and immigration reform in a negative fashion, for instance talking of electrifying border fences, said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the Washington-based League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights and advocacy group. “You had people really going hard core,” he said.
“You can see why — it helps appeal to this base, the really conservative white voters who are unhappy or concerned about the growing Hispanic population, from a xenophobic angle,” he said. “That might help in the primary, but it’s killing the party in the general election.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been critical of the president for not taking a more active approach on Hispanic issues, said Obama should call Republicans and Democrats to the White House to “chart a reasonable course forward on immigration.”
“The president and Democrats cannot be satisfied that the other party is repulsive to most Latino voters,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “It was an act of faith that Latino voters pulled the lever in overwhelming numbers for President Obama who has deported more than a million immigrants. Now, the President must work with Congress to live up to that faith.”