If Republicans were to consistently draw just over 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, they would likely dominate American politics in both presidential and congressional races.
Before I defend that claim, let me point to a similar statement made 30 years ago about the Black vote.
In the Spring 1992 issue of the academic journal Political Science Quarterly (PSQ), three political scientists published an article titled “Blacks and the Republican Party: The 20 Percent Solution.”
The authors wrote, “Twenty percent [of Black voters] appears to be the threshold Republican strategists believe will establish GOP dominance in America politics — not only in presidential elections, which has been the pattern since 1968, but in congressional contests as well.”
While that assessment became generally accepted and often repeated, a lot has changed in the past 30 years. But one thing that hasn’t changed much is the Black vote. The last time the GOP exceeded that 20 percent threshold was in the 1960 presidential race, when Republican Richard Nixon received 32 percent of the Black vote versus Democrat John F. Kennedy’s 68 percent.
Since then, GOP presidential candidates have received a high of 15 percent of the Black vote (twice) and a low of 4 percent (in 2008 for Republican John McCain). Republican candidate Donald Trump received 8 percent in 2016 and 2020.
Similarly, Hispanic voters have long heavily favored the Democratic Party. But as many political analysts have recently noted, that may be changing. And that possibility raises the question: What threshold percentage of the Hispanic vote could effectively “establish GOP dominance in American politics — not only in presidential elections … but in congressional contests as well” (to use the PSQ’s wording)?
I suggest that it’s just over 30 percent.
Since 1980, five Republican presidential candidates have received 30 percent or more of the Hispanic vote: Reagan twice (35 percent and 37 percent); George H.W. Bush once in 1988 (30 percent); George W. Bush twice (35 percent and 40 percent); John McCain (31 percent); and Donald Trump once in 2020 (38 percent). Reagan and George W. Bush did very well with Hispanics in both of their elections. Trump did well in his second election but alienated a number of other voter groups (especially suburban women), and so he still lost.
Even so, the fact that Trump received 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2020, and that several long-held Hispanic Democratic strongholds saw a shift toward the GOP, has the political analysts talking — and Democrats worried.
Of course, there are caveats to any assessment of the “Hispanic vote.”
As the Pew Research Center notes, identifying Hispanics, or Latinos, is complicated by the fact that the federal government considers them an ethnicity, not a race, though a majority say it’s part of their racial background.
In addition, some Hispanic voting blocks, such as those of Cuban descent, tend to vote heavily Republican, while those from certain other countries are more Democratic.
And Hispanics tend to be more concentrated in certain areas (something that is also true of the Black vote), which might change the percentages necessary for Republican candidates in those areas.
To be sure, not everyone sees a shift in the Hispanic vote. Gallup posted an updated analysis in January, which shows a slight decrease in Hispanics who identified as Democratic or leaned Democratic last year (58 percent to 56 percent), and no change among those who identified as Republican or leaned Republican (26 percent). But Gallup also recognizes that a large percentage of Hispanics tend to identify as independent, which might make a difference in the actual vote.
Democrats recognize their lock on the Hispanic vote may be slipping, while Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira even thinks Democrats are underappreciating the shift. And they know Republicans don’t have to win the Hispanic vote, just a sizable minority of it.
Is just over 30 percent the right number? While I think it’s defensible, I hope it spurs professional demographers, political scientists and voting experts to take up the challenge and make their own assessments.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.