Do Hispanics Like What the GOP Is Selling?
Hispanics Like What the GOP Is Selling
The message of work and opportunity appeals to this disproportionately middle-class minority.
By Phil Gramm and John Early
Oct. 19, 2022 6:14 pm ET
Hispanics are one of the fastest growing census demographics in America, and their realignment away from the Democratic Party is a political earthquake in the making. If polls are right and increasing numbers of Hispanics vote Republican in November, the much-touted inevitability of Democratic political dominance will have proved to be a pipe dream.
The creation of a separate ethnic classification for Hispanics in the 1970 census was a political decision. If someone in your family history spoke Spanish, you are counted as Hispanic—a definition that includes people whose ancestors were here before the Pilgrims landed as well as those who are arriving in the country today.
According to the census, there were 62 million Hispanics in 2021, comprising 19% of the population. After the third generation in the U.S., however, many no longer identify as Hispanic, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study. Asked about their race on the census, 58% of Hispanics said they were white, 27% selected the undefined option—“some other race”—8% selected two or more races, and 2% said they were black. Hispanics have the highest intermarriage rate of any ethnic or racial group. The American melting pot is boiling for Hispanics.
Like the Germans, Italians and Greeks before them, many second-and third- generation don’t speak the language of their forbears. In the past 50 years, median income for Hispanic households has grown 17% faster than for the population as a whole. Today Hispanics, in their labor-force participation and income distribution, look more like Republicans than Democrats. And a strong case can be made that the same forces driving the political realignment of middle-income workers generally is increasingly moving Hispanic voters as well.
We have shown on these pages how the explosion of government transfer payments, which in the past 50 years have far outpaced growth in the after-tax income of middle-income working families, has largely equalized the incomes of the bottom 60% of Americans. In addition to the collapse in work effort among low-income households, this government-created income equality has unleashed a populist political realignment. The inherently unstable Roosevelt coalition, between blue-collar workers and the recipients of government largess, is unraveling.
According to census data, middle-income American households earn more than 10 times as much as households in the bottom 20% of earners because their work-age adults are 3.1 times as likely to work and, when working, they work more than twice as many hours. But working and nonworking households alike now have roughly the same income after accounting for transfer payments and taxes.
Working people are increasingly hostile to an unjust system in which those who don’t break a sweat are almost as well off as those who do. This worker revolt, which was building in the 1980s with what were then called Reagan Democrats, was fully manifested in the Trump blue-collar political base.
Today this worker revolt is a prime mover of Hispanic voters, and it’s hardly surprising: Hispanic Americans work. Hispanic households receive 10% less in transfer payments than the average American household. They are underrepresented by 13% in the bottom income quintile, where only 36% of work-age persons actually work and where government transfer payments make up almost 90% of all income. They are 7% less likely to be in the bottom quintile than white households generally. Hispanic families are 31% overrepresented in the second income quintile, where 85% of work-age adults work; and they are 21% overrepresented in the American middle class, where 92% of work-age adults are employed. That middle-income working Americans think like middle-income working Americans shouldn’t come as a shock.
The Democratic response to the shift in Hispanic voters has been to hire more Hispanic political consultants. According to the Washington Post, the Democratic National Committee claims to have made “historic investments” in Hispanic voter outreach this election cycle. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent $46 million hiring Hispanic political advisers and engaging in Hispanic outreach. Its House counterpart has spent $31 million. These political committees, together with nonprofit groups, have hired Latino strategists and targeted Hispanic voters to amplify the Biden administration’s policy achievements, including expanded transfer payments and student loan forgiveness.
Only the vote count will give us the answer, but it is hard to believe that touting what the Biden administration has given them will work with middle-income Hispanic workers—especially when Hispanics are already less likely to receive welfare benefits than white voters generally. The grievance message would seem ineffective for Hispanic families that have worked their way into middle-income America in record numbers. Polls show that Hispanics don’t view themselves as a minority, much less an oppressed one, and their record of economic advancement proves that point.
A microcosm of this political realignment is playing out in deep South Texas. Republican Monica De La Cruz runs ads about how her grandmother would be proud that she owns her own business. Rep. Mayra Flores, who emigrated from Mexico as a child and worked with her family as migrant farm worker, notes that in “the promised land” she rose to become a respiratory care practitioner. Ms. Flores won a special election in a district Joe Biden carried by 5 points and is now running against a Democrat incumbent in a new district where Mr. Biden won by 15 points and Hillary Clinton by 30.
The open border that has filled South Texas with illegal immigrants, drugs and crime is a big issue for voters. So is the Democratic Party’s assault on traditional family values. But at its root the election is a choice between the opportunity that comes from the U.S. economy and the benefits that come from government. The Republican Hispanic candidates are running to share the American dream that hard work pays off. They have brought back the old political mantra of the Reagan era. They are for family, faith and freedom. Nowhere else in America is a clearer choice presented to the voter.
Mr. Gramm is a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Early served twice as assistant commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are the co-authors of “The Myth of American Inequality.” Mike Solon contributed to this article.