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Changing demographics and the GOP: Three good reads

Voter stickers are seen on a desk at a polling station inside San Francisco City Hall on November 8, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
Voter stickers are seen on a desk at a polling station inside San Francisco City Hall on November 8, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's become a familiar refrain in the days since the election: If the Republican party is to win future national elections, party leaders must pay heed to and engage with an increasingly non-white electorate, especially the growing number of Latinos who cast votes.

Already news reports have gone back to dropping the names of rising GOP luminaries who we're sure to hear more about between now and 2016: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas. Even immigrant-friendly former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has had his ears ringing this week.

Soften the harsh immigration rhetoric, engage in some bipartisan immigration reform deal-making, add a Latino candidate to the ticket and it's good start, right? But the answer that's emerging is "not quite," at least in a few good analyses this week that point to the need for more complex solutions.

First, New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza examines the party's future through the lens of immigration - and Texas. Here's a snippet from the story in which Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, displays a chart showing the state's projected population by ethnic group:

A red line, representing the white population, plunged from almost fifty-five per cent, in 2000, to almost twenty-five per cent, in 2040; a blue line, the Hispanic population, climbed from thirty-two per cent to almost sixty per cent during the same period.

He pointed to the spot where the two lines crossed, as if it augured a potential apocalypse. "This shows when Hispanics will become the largest group in the state,” he said. “That’s somewhere in 2014. We’re almost at 2013!” 

A piece in The Daily Beast by Peter Beinart more bluntly takes on the GOP's oft-cited "Latino problem," calling out popular theories about Latinos being social conservatives who are only alienated by unfriendly immigration rhetoric as unsound. So what does drive Latino voters? From the piece:

If Hispanics aren’t all that culturally conservative, they’re not obsessed with immigration either. According to Pew, 60 percent of Hispanics rated the economy as their top issue (almost exactly the same as the public at large). After that came health care, the deficit, and foreign policy. A USA Today/Gallup poll this summer found that Hispanic registered voters prioritized health care, unemployment, economic growth, and the gap between rich and poor over immigration.

So what’s the real reason Hispanics aren’t voting Republican? Economics. And some conservatives know it. 

And in the New York Times, op-ed columnist Ross Douthat puts the changing demographics story in perspective. While acknowledging the shift in white vs. non-white voters and how it affected this election, it again comes down mostly to economics, he argues, and the concerns that drove many voters cut across demographic lines. From the piece:

The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.

Both shifts, demographic and economic, must be addressed if Republicans are to find a way back to the majority. But the temptation for the party’s elites will be to fasten on the demographic explanation, because playing identity politics seems far less painful than overhauling the Republican economic message.

All three are excellent reads as we continue making sense of what happened last Tuesday at the polls and of what it will mean.