Where Does the Hispanic Vote Really Matter?

Nate asks, “Can the Republicans win back the White House in 2012 or 2016 while losing further ground among Latinos?” I don’t know about 2012 and 2016, but I can give my best estimates for 2008, based on my analysis with Yair using the Pew pre-election polls to get vote preferences (normalizing each state to line up with the actual election outcome) and the CPS post-election supplement to get voter turnout. (You’ll get similar numbers using the exit polls, but I trust our analyses a little more, also they’re consistent with our earlier graphs of voting by income and ethnicity.)

I’ll show you what we found, then give some brief discussion.

Here’s how Obama did among Hispanics in the states where there is a large Hispanic presence:


[In response to commenters, here are some numbers for McCain’s estimated share of the two-party vote among Hispanics: NM 27%, CA 26%, TX 42%, FL 43%, AZ 35%, NV 24%, NY 25%, CO 27%, NJ 23%, IL 23%, CT 24%. Exit polls give slightly different answers. No data source is perfect and we have to acknowledge that there is uncertainty in our estimates.]

And here’s a map showing our estimate of the Hispanic vote share by state (based on the CPS post-election supplement): Hispanics represented 31% of the vote in New Mexico, 22% in California, 20% in Texas, 15% in Florida, 13% in Arizona, 12% in Nevada, and less than 10% in all other states:


OK, so Obama dominated among Hispanics. How did he and McCain do among the rest of the voters? The following map shows our estimates from our model based on the Pew data:


This map looks suspiciously close to the map for all voters. And, in fact, it is.Here’s a scatterplot comparing McCain’s vote share among non-Hispanics to his total vote share by state (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia):


The removal of the Hispanic vote wouldn’t have changed the election outcome in any state (although New Mexico, Florida, Indiana, and North Carolina are within 1% of flipping, and small changes to the model (for example, using exit polls instead of the Pew surveys) might cause some of these to flip). The point is, except for the six or so states with lots of Hispanic voters, the changes are mostly tiny.

Now let’s look at it another way. Instead of removing Hispanics from the equation (which helps the Republicans), let’s try the counterfactual in which the Republicans give up on the Hispanic vote, which I’ll operationalize by transferring half of McCain’s Hispanic votes in every state to Obama. (For example, we estimate that McCain got 22.8% of the two-party vote among Hispanics in New Jersey. Under this counterfactual, we’ll give him just 11.4%.) Here’s what happens:


Again, not much difference. Ummm . . . Missouri moves to 50.1% for Obama. And here’s the scatterplot:


The bottom line: Hispanics were not a key component in Obama’s win. However, this is not to say that the Republicans should not try to contest the Hispanic vote. As the last scatterplot above shows, further losses of Hispanics would make the Democrats competitive in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona. In some sense this is no big deal, at least at the presidential level: If the Democrats remain at 53% or 54% of the vote, they’ll win nationally in any case. If we imagine a national swing of 3% or so toward the Republicans, so they’re competitive nationally, then their big risk if they lose Hispanic votes is to no longer be viable in Florida (where we estimate McCain to have won 43% of the two-party vote among Hispanics in 2008). That’s the state where Republicans really can’t afford to abandon the Hispanic vote.

P.S. Some commenters point out that the Hispanic vote is expected to vote. Following up on the above, I did some crude calculations, assumning that the Hispanic vote share increases by 20% in each state:



Again, the bottom line is that the biggest difference is in Florida, with its high Hispanic vote that is currently nearly evenly split between the two parties. Texas and Arizona show big potential shifts too, but, again, if these states are swinging without other big changes happening elsewhere, the national Republican party is in big trouble anyway.

2 thoughts on “Where Does the Hispanic Vote Really Matter?

  1. I think you are missing the point on the importance of the Hispanic vote. There's a coming boom in the voting eligible Hispanic population that will destroy the chances of the Republican party at the Presidential level. Let explain using Texas as the key. Texas is, in fact, the key to Republican electoral college success. Despite Nate Silver's scenarios in today's post, there's really no viable way for Republicans to get to 270 electoral college votes if they lose Texas.

    Texas is an interesting case. It has fairly low voter turnout across all ethnic lines. It suffers from 'losers stay home' syndrome as well. As you've noticed, in non-competitive states (in a Presidential election), the favored candidate does better than the polls suggest. So, those solid Red or Blue states are a little less solid than you might think. Hence, Indiana in 2008.

    Now, if you take a look at Texas demographics, you'll notice that the median age of native born Hispanics is 19 years old. The median age of White, non-Hispanics is 40 years old. In 12 years, Hispanics will be about 30% of the electorate in Texas. Add to that the fact that younger White, non-Hispanic Texans are significantly more Democratic than their 65+ grandparents. If the Republican party can't improve their performance among Hispancis, that'll tip Texas into the slightly blue category by the 2020 Presidential election. Given the right candidate, it could happen in 2016.

  2. On the poliitics of the nomination, it may well be that the white house was thinking about Presidential politics, but I suspect that they had two other aims.

    The first is to mobilize a base that is young and growing for local elections. Everything from school boards to Senate races matter. I suspect that the long term benefits far outweigh the gains in the electoral math 4 years from now. But even in the near term, there are consequences. If Hutchison runs for Governor, TX has an open Senate seat. Cornyn was able to fend off a challenger, but had to outspend the challenger by a huge amount to do so. A Democrat, who has already run a statewide campaign, in an open race may do very well. I understand the temptation (necessity?) of analyzing Presidential election data, but politics in the US is not a winner-take-all affair. There are Governorships, Senate and House races, State house races, and they are swayed by events at the national level. Party affiliation affects electabiity. A discussion of these issues, is relevant and important.

    The second is to break the Republican party; to encourage Republicans to break ranks. It seems very likely to me that at least a few Republicans will do so on this vote. If they do and survive by, for example, finding new funding sources if the base funding dries up in retaliation, then this will be a major victory for the President.

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