Will Latinos Vote With Their Honky Neighbors?

After I had already sent in my TPMCafe column on The Emerging Democratic Majority and its contemporary relevance, Michael Lind offered his own take on the controversy at Salon. His editors certainly know his reputation, giving the piece a headline in keeping with his past obsessions: “Doomed by the South: Why the emerging Democratic majority may never happen.” But that’s not exactly what he’s saying. His broader argument is that the Latino voters on whom Democratic hopes for a majority rest are likely to exhibit the same assimilationist tendencies as other immigrant groups, increasingly identifying as “white” and polarizing against, not with, African-Americans. At that point, they may also begin voting like their European-American neighbors, which in the South and Southwest (though not so much in California) means Republican.

It’s an interesting hypothesis that Republicans will love, and it does rest on one phenomenon Democrats should find unsettling: the relatively strong Latino vote Republicans regularly pull in Texas. But it does not take into account the possibility that anti-Latino hostility among Republicans will slow down if not stop any trend in their direction, even or perhaps especially in the more conservative areas of the country where nativism is making a big comeback.

Lind is also telescoping an awful lot of history in terms of immigrant political behavior. While it’s true all elements of the great immigrant wave of the nineteenth and early twentieth century eventually assimilated into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture to a considerable extent, they did so at different speeds, particularly when it comes to politics. Irish-Americans, to cite the most prominent example, stuck with the Democratic Party in very high levels long after most of the old Gaelic traditions had faded. And Jews, of course, have remained disproportionately Democratic to this day despite levels of economic success and some foreign policy totems that should encourage a Republican trend.

Yes, the odds are against Democrats holding two-to-one margins or better among Latinos perpetually. But by the time Republicans are again competitive nationally in this demographic, a lot of other unforeseeable things could happen elsewhere.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.