Pump the Brakes Mr. Cillizza, Pump the Brakes

Even for all of its obvious craziness, the world, it would seem, still fails to provide enough talking points to keep everyone in conversation. Thankfully, there are census results—a conversational safe haven for those journalists and bloggers left uninspired by war, revolution, economic catastrophe, and, of course, nuclear meltdown. Divorcing himself from his usually engaging analysis of all things relevant, Chris Cillizza took WaPo’s “the Fix” to the cushy world of census pontification earlier today:

“The numbers are eye-opening. Hispanics now account for more than 16 percent of the total population, making them the largest minority group in the country. More than half of all population growth in the United States over the past decade came from Hispanics. Perhaps most amazing is that nearly a quarter — 23 percent — of all children age 17 or younger are Latino.

That’s a major problem for Republicans, given that in the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — far from the GOP’s most ardent advocate of stricter immigration laws — won just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls.

And if looking back is worrisome for GOP strategists, looking forward is downright frightening.

Of the nine states where the Hispanic population grew by 100 percent or more between 2000 and 2010, McCain won seven of them: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee. That means that what had been reliably red states for decades are slowly — or not so slowly — seeing huge growth among what, for the moment, is a reliably Democratic constituency.

Add to that the fact that the four states with the country’s largest Hispanic population — California, Florida, New York and Texas — will account for 143 electoral votes for the next 10 years. That’s more than half of the electoral votes a candidate needs to be elected president. California and New York already are reliably Democratic, while Texas remains, for now, reliably Republican. Florida has been pivotal in the past three presidential elections and is likely to be again in 2012.”

Pump the breaks Mr. Cillizza, pump the breaks. Before getting worked up into a rhetorical tizzy, let’s probe a bit deeper into some of the assumptions at work in the excerpt above.

Assumption #1: “Hispanic” is a meaningful electoral demographic. In both political and cultural terms, this rather obviously isn’t the case. Florida, for instance, saw a 57% increase in its Hispanic population. At the same time, the Hispanic population in Texas went through the roof. And while there are no doubt meaningful conclusions to be drawn from these statistics, one of them is not that the “Hispanic vote” is gaining importance. I’d be inclined to imagine that these two communities—drawn largely from different countries of origin—are being posed with two widely divergent sets of challenges. To assume that they are riding in the same political boat, therefore, seems like a rather apparent mistake.

Assumption #2: The “Hispanic vote” is driven by immigration policy. For reasons just mentioned, this doesn’t make a ton of sense. Various portions of various parts of the country’s Hispanic population no doubt care about immigration policy, but to assume that other issues might not be similarly relevant is plainly silly. I’d hazard to guess that a community of second generation Hispanic immigrants (newsflash: not all Hispanics in the United States are exclusively worried about immigration; shockingly, a lot of them were born here) might be more concerned with job creation policy than they are with the Great Fence of Texas.

Assumption #3: That demographics mean destiny in the foreseeable future. With enough time, the claim that ‘demographics mean destiny’ is usually a good one. Cillizza, however, isn’t working with anything like the requisite temporal period. He writes that “Of the nine states where the Hispanic population grew by 100 percent or more between 2000 and 2010, McCain won seven of them: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.” The implication, then, being that the GOP better watch out—what had once reliably been its turf is now slowly slipping away. If divorced from the abstract world of blog posts, though, this is absolute nonsense.

Take, for instance, last fall’s election returns in Kentucky. Rand Paul won his Senate seat by more than 150,000 votes. In 2009, the state’s Hispanic population was estimated at slightly less than 120,000 individuals. If that population continues to grow, Mr. Cillizza would seem to suggest, it’s only a matter of time before its democratically inclined voters overwhelm the GOP’s electoral advantage in the Bluegrass State. And, on the face of things, this seems to make some sense. But, wait! The rest of the state’s population is growing as well!… And given that the Commonwealth is overwhelmingly non-Hispanic in its demography, one would be well served to assume that his might water-down the electoral importance of the increasing Hispanic population. Moreover (and get this), Hispanics, just as is the case for everyone else, don’t really vote all that often: only about one-third of registered Hispanic voters do. Top that off with the reality that the bulk of the Hispanic population’s growth has come among individuals aged 0-17, and Mr. Cillizza’s impending GOP doomsday seems to be a good ways off…

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