WASHINGTON — Failure to connect with a growing population of voters of color in the 2016 election will spell trouble for both major political parties, experts said at a panel Tuesday.
Voters of color are expected to be the majority of the country’s population by 2043. Leading in the growth spurt of minority voters are Hispanics, whose numbers are projected to rise to 128 million, or 29 percent of the population by 2050 according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
It appears that the Hispanic voters are increasingly Democratic—at least more so than a decade ago. But only half of those voters say they’re strong partisans, according to Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a research and polling firm.
“Half of the entire 53 million [Latinos in the U.S.] are under the age of 26,” Barreto said at a panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank.
“Youngsters don’t have strong party identification. Another big chunk are naturalized citizens—people who might be older but brand new into the electorate. They’re just figuring out party identification,” he said.
Party stances on the issue of immigration reform will be crucial in determining who gets the Hispanic vote, Barreto said.
Republicans should seriously consider changing their approach on immigration if they want to win nationally in 2016, said Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group.
Dimock said he isn’t optimistic the GOP can win over Hispanic voters.
“There’s no question that immigration creates a unification, to some extent, among Latino voters, precisely because there is a suffering that some in the community face as a result of immigration policies today,” Dimock said.
Presidential approval ratings rise and fall on many issues. Immigration appears to be one of particular interest if recent polling is to be trusted.
Take President Barack Obama’s long-delayed executive orders on immigration, for example, which may protect millions of undocumented immigrants. After Obama issued the executive actions in November, his approval ratings among Hispanic-Americans rose by 12 points to 64 percent, according to a Gallup poll.
Although Jeb Bush, a predicted contender for the 2016 presidential candidacy, has been an “outspoken advocate” to reform the country’s “broken immigration system”, Dimock still believes the Latino vote will most likely “stay heavily Democratic.”
“It boils down to a turnout issue more than anything else,” Dimock said. “The question becomes: Is there enough of a motivation [for Hispanic voters] to get out and vote for a Democratic candidate?”