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How Republicans Can Approach The Minority Vote By: Adam C. Kolasinski
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 26, 2001


MANY POLITICAL COMMENTATORS have noted the extraordinary effort George W. Bush made to court minority voters. The editorial in the December 4 issue of National Review summarized it eloquently:

“Bush tried, more than any previous Republican candidate had, not to offend liberal sensitivities on race. He embraced immigration, supported bilingual education, obscured his position on race preferences, appeared before the NAACP, split the difference on hate crimes, and had Colin Powell guilt-trip the Republican convention. His reward: 35 percent of the Hispanic vote and a smaller share of the black vote than Bob Dole got in 1996.”

Let us also not forget Bush’s comment that all Americans should learn Spanish, his promise to streamline the INS, and the countless Spanish phrases inserted into his speeches. In this election, the GOP bent over backwards to court blacks and Hispanics. Many find it hard to imagine what more it could have done to attract them, and yet, as National Review noted, Bush's showing among minority voters was dismal. Contrary to the spin of some neo-cons, 35% of the Hispanic vote is not an achievement for a strong Republican candidate. While 35% is better than what GOP candidates received in 1992 and 1996, years in which they lost, Reagan got 37% in 1984 and Bush Sr. got 33% in 1988, and in neither of these two elections did Republicans do anything to “reach out” to Hispanics.

Even in Bush's home state, where the GOP has been "reaching out" to minorities for the past eight years, the results were disappointing. In Texas, he got 5% of the black vote. He did better with the Hispanic vote, receiving 43%, but Bush is enormously popular in Texas: he got 59% overall, and 73% of the white vote (Bush received only 54% of the white vote nationally). Also, one must keep in mind that the Hispanic population in Texas is very different than in other parts of the country: a large number of Texas Hispanics are highly assimilated individuals whose families have lived in the U.S. for many generations. Obviously the strategy that the GOP has been using to woo minority votes has failed.

Why the Current Approach Hurts the GOP

The strategy in question has almost exclusively consisted of compromising on issues that Democrats use to attract minority votes: affirmative action, mass immigration, bilingualism, and ethnic pandering. It does not work because Democrats are always prepared to offer minorities more on these issues than Republicans. Why should blacks, a large majority of whom benefit from affirmative action, vote for a Republican who supports affirmative action lite when they can vote for a Democrat who vigorously pushes for the real thing? The only result of such compromise is that minority votes get bought at a higher price, as the Democrats can always bid more. Furthermore, not only does GOP compromise on such issues fail to attract minority votes, it probably costs votes, because the vast majority of the public supports the conservative positions on each of these issues, as we shall see below.

Racial Preferences. A Gallup poll taken just before the election showed that a whopping 85% of the public opposes racial preferences, and most other polls yield similar results. Yet never in the entire course of the campaign did Bush denounce racial preferences in unequivocal terms. In the third debate, Bush said he was against “quotas” and for “affirmative access,” but, as Al Gore pointed out, affirmative action programs can take other forms, and he refused to answer the question of whether he would support racial preferences. In fact, he has supported them. Not challenging Gore on this was a mistake. Failure to strongly denounce Gore’s support of such racist programs probably cost Bush Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both have large populations of working-class whites, a demographic group severely hurt by affirmative action/racial preference programs.

Bilingualism and Ethnic Pandering. The vast majority of Americans strongly oppose bilingual education and all other efforts to promote official use of languages other than English. A Rasmussen poll taken in July showed that 89% wanted English made the official language our nation (we currently have no official national language). In 1998, in liberal California, in a year when the Republican candidate for governor lost by 20 points, an initiative abolishing bilingual education passed with 60% of the vote, despite the fact that it only received 35% of the Hispanic vote. Bush, however, not only failed to oppose bilingual education, but actually supported it in some instances. He failed to chastise Clinton-Gore for dumbing-down the English proficiency requirements for citizenship or mandating that ballots be available in Spanish. A nation needs a common language to unify its people, and most Americans understand this. They also understand that ethnic ghettos are bad for the country, and Bush's ethnic pandering did nothing to alleviate this growing problem. Failure to capitalize on Americans' legitimate concerns on these matters doubtlessly cost Bush a significant number of votes.

Immigration. A nationwide Zogby poll in February showed that 72% of Americans want immigration reduced. In California, a July Rasmussen poll showed that 67% of whites and 58% of all likely voters believed that immigration is too high. Our current immigration policy is flooding the low-skill labor market with over a million people a year and therefore, as Harvard economist Jorge Borjas has shown, driving down the wages of non-union working class Americans, ie. swing voters. Furthermore, since most new immigrants are poor and settle in urban areas, they are likely to consume more in government services than they are to pay in taxes. Let us also not forget how susceptible poor, urban racial minorities are to the identity politics that the Democrats are so good at playing.

Bush, however, not only supports current immigration levels, he indicated that he wants them increased. Americans are also outraged by disgraceful border enforcement and the 300,000-plus illegal aliens entering our country every year, yet Bush was silent on this issue. In 1996, Dick Morris stated that there were only two issues which he was worried Dole could use to defeat Clinton: immigration and school choice. Again, in 2000, Republicans failed to use a potent political weapon. Also, given that immigrants overwhelmingly vote Democratic, Republicans must advocate a tighter immigration policy or face political irrelevance.

Taking strong stands on the above issues probably would have cost Bush few, if any, minority votes. If someone benefits from and supports racial preferences, he is going to vote for Gore regardless. A March Zogby poll showed that 58% of Hispanics would not be less likely to vote for a candidate if he supported a reduction in immigration. Finally, those minorities who already vote Republican do so because they realize that the policies Democrats advocate in order to buy their votes are bad for their communities in the long run. Thus compromising on the above issues probably even costs the GOP minority votes.

Some might counter that the positions I am encouraging Republicans to take destroyed the party in California. Ever since ballot initiatives were passed that denied government services to illegal aliens, abolished racial preferences at all state institutions, and abolished bilingual education, Republicans have seen one electoral defeat after another in California. Therefore, the conventional wisdom dictates, Republicans cannot advocate such policies and win.

This analysis ignores the facts. GOP Governor Pete Wilson enthusiastically campaigned for proposition 187, which denied government services to illegal aliens and passed by 60%; he was re-elected by a landslide in 1994. On the other hand, in 1998, the Republican establishment actively campaigned against proposition 227, which abolished bilingual education (the initiative passed anyway with 60% of the vote overall, but only 35% of the Hispanic vote). The GOP candidate for governor, Dan Lungren, indicated he regretted that proposition 187 was ever passed. He boasted that he had voted for illegal alien amnesty when in Congress, and his position on racial preferences, much like Dubya’s, was soft. The result: Democrat Grey Davis was elected governor by a whopping 58% of the vote. Lungren was not even able to gain a majority of the white vote: he got merely 48%. The experience in California teaches us that Republicans lose when they fail to fervently oppose affirmative action, bilingualism, and mass immigration.

A Better Approach

Instead of compromising with Democrats, Republicans would be better advised to advocate alternative policies that will in the long run help minorities achieve economic independence. The fact that blacks and Hispanics are much poorer on average than whites, and that a large number of them constitute an underclass perpetually dependent on government, creates racial resentment and tension that is bad for America. Swing voters realize this, and thus it is important that Republicans convince them that they have a plan to deal with the problem. Republicans thus should strongly push for welfare reform, school choice, and enterprise zones. Furthermore, Republicans need to base part of their case against affirmative action, bilingualism, and mass immigration on the fact that these programs hurt minorities. Affirmative action hurts hard-working blacks and Hispanics by making their achievements suspect and generating white resentment. Mass immigration hurts blacks and American-born Hispanics by flooding the low-skill labor market with cheap competitors. Bilingualism discourages Hispanics from learning English, a language one needs to master in order to be successful in America. Ethnic pandering inhibits assimilation.

Realistically Speaking

Republicans should not, however, be under any illusions that supporting policies designed to help minorities achieve economic independence is going to help them win more minority votes, at least not in the near future. The sad fact is that a large number of blacks and Hispanics are poor and urban, and thus they are heavily dependent upon government assistance, which the party of Big Government always dispenses more generously. For most poor people dependent on government aid, economic independence is, at best, a distant hope of which there is no certainty of realization. On the other hand, a welfare check, a subsidized apartment, and a book of food stamps are tangible realities, without which many of them believe they cannot survive. When faced with a choice between the distant hope offered by Republicans and tangible goods offered by Democrats on which they are dependent, most people of any race will choose the latter, even though the former is in their long-term best interests. In addition, members of the urban underclass tend to consider their status inevitable and inescapable because it is all they and their parents have ever known. Thus while poor inner-city inhabitants might like the idea of school choice, it is has not influenced their voting decisions because they are generally skeptical that any policy can help them or their children escape poverty and dependence. That is why several school choice initiatives in California and elsewhere failed to help win a significant number of minority votes for the Republicans who strongly supported them.

Middle class blacks and Hispanics (i.e. those who went to college and hold managerial or professional jobs) will continue to vote Democratic because the vast majority benefit from racial preference programs. If, because of such programs, a person can hold a better job or send his kids to a more prestigious college, he'd have to be extraordinarily principled to vote for a candidate who wants to end them. To be sure, some blacks and Hispanics are this highly principled, as indicated by the fact that 24% of Hispanics and 26% of blacks in 1996 voted for California proposition 209 that ended racial preferences. You can never, however, expect that proportion to be much higher in any racial group, which does not make Republican prospects of winning more Hispanic votes look very promising. There appears to be some upside potential with blacks, but one must remember that most blacks are neither college educated nor do they hold managerial and professional jobs and thus do not benefit from affirmative action. Much of that 26% of the black vote that supported 209 thus likely came from this poorer class of blacks, which will likely continue voting democratic for the reasons cited in the previous paragraph.

Finally, it is an unfortunate fact that most people want a political affiliation that flatters their ethnicity, their religion, and their culture. For ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities, such an affiliation can be found with the Democrats, who fan the flames of ethnocentrism and racial identity politics. The Republicans, on the other hand, are the political manifestation of mainstream America, which is overwhelmingly white and Christian. It is probably for this reason that Bush lost even among Asians, the most affluent of racial minority groups, whose material self-interest would be better served by voting Republican. Republicans could counter this Democratic advantage by appointing more members of minority groups to positions of influence, but the experience of Clarence Thomas suggests that the efficacy this strategy is limited.

It is thus imperative that Republicans push for a reduction in immigration. Over 80% of immigrants are members of racial minority groups, which consistently vote Democratic. Current immigration flows, if allowed to continue, will thus alter America’s demographics so that Republicans cannot get elected. An immigration reform act, such as the Stump Mass Immigration Reform Act proposed in the House in 1999, would leave our current demographic patterns unchanged and keep Republican hopes alive.

Hope for the Future

If Republicans hope to win, they need to capture the swing vote, and swing voters are generally not members of minority groups. By strongly advocating the overwhelmingly popular positions on racial preferences, immigration, and bilingualism, and by advocating policies that will help minorities achieve economic independence, Republicans stand a good chance of winning a large chunk of the swing vote and becoming the majority party for a long time. In addition, if Republicans succeed in eradicating racial preferences and integrating the racial underclass into mainstream America through the policies discussed above, there is a good chance that, in 2-3 decades, their share of the minority vote will increase, as more minorities come to realize that what is good for America as a whole might just be good for them too.

Note: All figures on voting by demographic group for the 2000 election were taken from CNN exit poll results. Figures for the 1984, 1988, and 1998 elections are taken from ABC news exit poll results. Figures for voting patterns on proposition 209 are taken from the Los Angeles Times exit poll results.


Adam C. Kolasinski is an Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and president of the Columbia Conservative Alumni Association. The views expressed above are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any entity within the Federal Reserve System.


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