Elián González and the Hispanic Vote

Elián González and the Hispanic Vote

The imminent release of a new “autopsy” into the Republican Party’s poor showing in the 2012 election–this time focusing on young voters–repeats the theme that the GOP is having trouble attracting Hispanic voters.

Though there is growing evidence that Hispanic voters may, in fact, be less conservative as a voting bloc than some Republicans believe, others cite the steady erosion from the 2000 election and blame the GOP’s stance on immigration. In 2000, George W. Bush earned 35 percent of the Hispanic vote; in 2004, he earned 44 percent. In 2008, John McCain earned only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, despite his strong stance in favor of immigration reform. In 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, causing wide alarm.

There is no doubt the Bush’s strong performance in 2004 was partly because he prioritized relations with Mexico, and because of a strong patriotic boost in the wake of 9/11 that saw him improve his performance across many voting blocs. In addition, Bush had good relations with the Hispanic community as governor of Texas, and speaks Spanish. But there may have been another factor that made a small difference, creating a new openness to Bush among Hispanic voters in the critical 2000 election: the Elián González controversy.

When the Clinton administration seized Elián and sent him back to his family in Cuba, it caused outrage not only among Florida’s Cuban-American voters, but among Hispanic voters nationwide. Vice President Al Gore felt compelled to come out against what the administration had done even while he was serving in it. 

The Elián González crisis, which occurred during an election year, may have made some Hispanic voters less inclined to trust Democrats’ promises about the beneficence of big government. It might not have sealed the deal for Bush, but it certainly may have opened the door–and he delivered. 

Since then, Democrats have done their best to stoke frustrations over the immigration issue while torpedoing efforts to resolve it. And despite what some Hispanic leaders, and Republicans, are urging today, Hispanic voters have not rewarded those few GOP candidates who have been willing to take the political risk of supporting immigration reform.