After last week’s Republican primary elections in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., the 2012 presidential primary season is reaching an inflection point, and eyes are turning toward America’s final decision on Election Day in November. While pundits and pollsters speculate on the horse race and who will capture the hearts and minds of the American people, one segment of the electorate is garnering increased attention — Hispanic Americans.
It is, to be sure, a population that continues to grow in size, voice, and importance. In the 2008 election, Hispanics turned out in force — 9.7 million Hispanics voted, and those numbers are projected to grow to 11.8 million to 12.2 million in 2012, with particular importance in presidential battlegrounds such as Colorado and Nevada, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Last May, President Barack Obama spoke to Hispanic voters in El Paso, Texas, and delivered a highly partisan speech on immigration reform where he chastised his political opponents and their views of border security. In July, the President reached out to the Hispanic community at a gathering organized by The National Council of La Raza, where he again attempted to use the issue of immigration as a wedge issue, casting conservatives as being anti-immigration for their opposition to illegal immigration.
The President’s effort in appealing to Hispanics is not surprising given how that population has suffered under his economic policies. Clearly, he sees there is work to be done in order to firm up his base. From 2005 to 2009, median household wealth among Hispanics fell by 66%, compared with a drop of 53% among blacks and 16% among non-Hispanic whites; the unemployment rate among Hispanics in March was 10.3 percent, compared to 8.2 percent among the broader population; and between 2006 and 2010, the poverty rate among Hispanics increased more than any other group, from 20.6 percent to 26.6 percent, all according to the Pew Hispanic Center. And a majority of Hispanics believe that the economic downturn has been harder on them than on other groups in America. It’s not surprising, then, that Hispanics rank jobs, not immigration, as the number one issue in the 2012 election. Additionally, 56 percent are dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed.
None of this is to say that any one ideology has an iron-clad lock on Hispanics’ loyalty. In fact, among registered Hispanic voters, 35 percent say they’re conservative, 32 percent view themselves as moderate, and 28 percent describe themselves as liberal. What it does mean, though, is that conservatives have a compelling message for the Hispanic community and a case that needs to be made.
And what is the liberal message? They say Hispanics are victims in a racist and unfair society and need government to give them protected status. Is this an inspiring message for the latest group seeking to realize the American Dream and get on the ladder of success?
On the issue of immigration, conservatives have always recognized the need to have more legal immigration. Illegal immigration, though, ignores all the law abiding individuals seeking to legally obtain their citizenship, while others illegally flout the system.
Conservatives must make the case, too, on the issue of jobs, enterprise, and free markets. Like all Americans, Hispanics are suffering high unemployment rates, joblessness that has gone on too long, and stagnant home values. The promise of the President’s big hand of government — the trillion-dollar stimulus, Obamacare, and his mountain of regulations — has not delivered a better life for any American, Hispanic or otherwise. Meanwhile, America’s debt continues to grow, and future generations of all backgrounds will be saddled with the burden of having to cover the costs of the checks the President is writing today. Conservatives, on the other hand, call for a government that lives within its means, empowers the people, and lifts burdens from job creators so that they can grow and thrive.
The Heritage Foundation’s Spanish-language website, Libertad.org, communicates The Heritage Foundation’s policy analysis and research to a Hispanic audience that prefers to read in their first language. Its goal is to educate a growing community about conservative ideals and how limited government — not big government — can help them achieve the American dream.
Hispanics are an important and growing part of America’s fabric. Those who immigrate to the United States are in pursuit of a better life, and they want to be rewarded for the fruits of their labor, just as any other American would. They’re a growing political voice, too, and they should hear the message of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Those concepts are vital to ensuring a strong future for all Americans, no matter their heritage.
Mike Brownfield oversees execution of The Heritage Foundation’s social networking strategy and online media outreach as the think tank’s senior digital communications associate.
This article was originally published at Heritage.org. Used with permission.