Republicans Need More Than More Hispanic Voters to Win White House

by Nathan L. Gonzales December 14, 2015 · 12:50 PM EST

Republicans’ decline with Hispanic voters over the past two presidential races is undeniable and improvement with the growing demographic is an imperative to improve the party’s White House prospects. But a new interactive tool helps demonstrate that the GOP’s Electoral College challenge goes well beyond the party’s problem with Latino voters.

David Wasserman wasn’t joking when he tweeted that the Swing-O-Matic would be “hours of fun for political numbers nerds.” The Cook Political Report’s House Editor teamed up with FiveThirtyEight to create a fun, interactive tool to try to project the 2016 presidential race.

Wasserman and FiveThirtyEight’s Aaron Bycoffee started with the results of the 2012 election and adjusted the size of five demographic groups based on four years of population change. 

As the user adjusts the vote percentage and turnout figures, the model recalculates the results for each state — as well as the Electoral College outcome and the national popular vote — taking into account how much of the state’s electorate the group accounts for.

I took the Swing-O-Matic out for a spin the first time by looking at how much better Republicans would need to do with Hispanic voters to make an impact on the Electoral College.

We know from President George W. Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004 that Republicans don’t need to win the Hispanic vote to win elections. But the GOP can’t get destroyed among the growing group of voters.

In 2012, President Barack Obama carried Hispanic voters 71-27 percent over Mitt Romney and scored a 332-206 victory in the Electoral College.

Republicans can improve their share of Hispanic voters next year with a combination of an appealing nominee and/or a Democratic drop-off without Obama on the ballot.

If next year’s Democratic nominee slips back to 2004, when John Kerry defeated Bush 53-44 percent among Hispanic voters, that would pull Florida and New Mexico into the GOP column. The Democratic nominee would still win the Oval Office, but the margin in Electoral College would narrow to 298-240. (Bringing the Democratic winning percentage down to 62 percent would bring Florida alone).

Decreasing the Democratic percentage one more notch (down to 52 percent), would bring Colorado into the Republican column. That would still be a 289-249 Democratic victory in the Electoral College.

And pulling the Democratic percentage all the way down to 50 percent (now 21 points lower than Obama’s 2012 performance) still only brings Nevada into the Republican column, and the GOP nominee would still fall short in the Electoral College, 283-255. The winner needs 270.

This all assumes that Hispanic voters turn out at the same levels as 2012 (which isn’t a guarantee) and Republicans don’t improve among any other demographics. But it demonstrates that GOP challenges to winning the White House go beyond Latino voters.

A Nov. 15-Dec. 2 MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 57-38 percent among Hispanic voters in a hypothetical general election matchup. She led Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 61-34 percent, and Donald Trump, 69-27 percent, among Latino voters by much wider margins.

In his initial write-up, Wasserman pointed out that the “power of the Latino vote is frequently overstated.”

“Even if Latino and Asian/other turnout were to plummet to zero, Democrats would still win the Electoral College 283 to 255 — despite losing the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points,” Wasserman wrote. “That’s because Latino and Asian voters are heavily concentrated in non-competitive states like California, New York and Texas.”

But just because it’s difficult for Republicans to move the Electoral College solely by doing better with Hispanic voters, doesn’t mean the GOP should give up Hispanic outreach. The party likely needs to improve its image to do better with moderate, non-Hispanic voters. Those voters seem less likely to support a nominee or party viewed as intolerant, and even discriminatory, toward various minorities.