Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Policy, Language, Etc.

Ricochet's Rob Long asks what Republicans can do to win over a larger share of the Latino vote.  I don't think amnesty per se is the biggest stumbling block.  Even the pro-amnesty lobbying group America's Voice, using leading questioning found immigration to be a low salience issue when compared with the labor market, health care, and education (look at the question wording in the attachment.)  That doesn't mean that the salience of immigration would not rise if Republicans came out for mass deportations (which does not seem to be on the table for the national party.)  A policy of stricter border enforcement, the introduction of a tamper-resistant national identification system, and the prospect of a limited amnesty once we have a functional immigration system would seem to combine gaining majority support and moving policy in the right direction with an agenda that would minimize alienation of Latino voters.

But having an answer on amnesty is only a small part of the problem.  I think that a large part of the GOP's problem with Latinos comes from an inability to communicate with people who have not bought into (or are at least familiar with) certain narratives and stock phrases within American politics. A policy of stop tax increases (or cut taxes) to create jobs isn't quite an appeal on tax policy.  It is an appeal to people who buy into a certain narrative of what is wrong with the economy and how to fix it.  To someone who is unfamiliar with the unarticulated premises of "cut taxes to spur the economy" the statement isn't exactly wrong.  It is just noise.

People who pay alot of attention to politics seem to me to not notice how the vocabulary of our politics is incomprehensible to large fraction of the public.  This is true of many Latino voters, but is also true of many young voters in general (including whites) who have not been socialized into understanding the terms of the debate through their families, the right-leaning media or through large doses of the MSM's traditional news broadcasts. 

The Democrats have certain built-in advantages with Latino voters and especially with Latinos in heavily Latino areas.  Personal interactions with politics involves contact with local elected officials, community organization activists and school teachers.  All of these groups are probably Democrat-leaning and can create the impression that Democrats are the "good guys."  One shouldn't exaggerate the strength, or complexity of that impression.  That impression can coincide with any number of opinions on abortion, taxation, or whatever (and no particular policy preferences on a broad range of issues.)  As long as the impression of the Democrats (or a given Democrat) does not come into direct and seemingly unavoidable conflict with an important issue preference or deeply held principle, the impression can form the basis for political action.

This has implications for how Republicans (and conservatives) should seek to win over Latinos (and to a large extent all voters who do not consume much right-leaning media but do not have strong liberal-leaning policy preferences.)  The first thing is to realize that large parts of basic conservative speech is worthless as an appeal.  There are lots of people who are unmoved at the thought that government spending is out of control (what does that even mean?  it can be explained but still...), who neither fear nor lust for government-run medicine, who don't know that tax cuts are the road to recovery and don't care that the Obama administration's alleged Wilsonian progressivism makes dead George Washington cry in heaven.

One implication for policy is that policy and messaging should focus on tangible benefits to the audience you are addressing.  That means that if you are going to build an appeal around tax cuts, you should include significant tax cuts for most of the audience you are appealing to.  Compared to Obama's program, the 2008 McCain tax plan, the Ryan Roadmap, and the Pledge to America did not include significant tax cuts to most non-wealth Americans.  From personal experience, I think that there is probably a political market among younger Latinos for a policy mix of lower taxes and fewer (though perhaps better functioning) government services.  But that would mean actually cutting their taxes rather than having some story about how tax cuts that go to someone else will benefit them in the end.  I also think that there is room to move the US tax system that provides tax cuts to young middle-class workers (especially parents) and increases economic efficiency.

Something similar can be said for other policies.  It isn't enough to be against socialized medicine.  That isn't a scare phrase for alot of people.  It isn't enough to be for tort reform.  It makes plenty of sense to blame forthcoming premium increases on Obamacare, but it will be just as important to have policies that can plausibly offer life improvements.  And the focus of explaining those policies should be on the benefits that individuals would derive.  It would include explaining how reforming Medicaid into a voucherized system of high deductible insurance would decrease the working poor's wait times for seeing a doctor and maybe save the taxpayers money.  In fact that last sentence is at least eight words too long to be maximally effective.  It would mean explaining how a system that bypassed state mandates and funded reinsurance pools could increase the take home pay of middle-class workers and increase their security of keeping health insurance if they change jobs.  It also isn't enough to be pro-life.  You have to be clear and gutsy in highlighting the abortion extremism of the Democratic Party.  It wouldn't hurt (and it is only just) to remind the public of the visible humanity of the late-term fetuses that much of the senior Democratic leadership wants to have a virtually unlimited license to destroy.

There are of course bad ways to explain these policies.  They would include spending alot of time citing journal articles and economic models.  They would also include falling into Bob Dole-type Congress talk (I coauthored an amendment to SB 141 to authorize the Secretary of HHS to...)  Selling the right policies will have to be a combination of wonkiness and populism.

There is also the issue of the media environment.  You will have to get people where they are which would mean using paid media to get to people who aren't consuming right-leaning media (with focus on the Comedy Central bloc of show, entertainment programming and Spanish language media.)  It would also mean structuring your ad buys differently. Many thirty second ads are only collections of buzzwords and atmospherics.  The buzzwords are probably meaningless to your target audience.  It might make more sense to buy one ninety second or two minute ad that says something clear instead of four thirty second ads that don't effectively communicate anything.

Personal note: I'll be away tomorrow.  See (well, read) you on Friday.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 5 Comments

" and don't care that the Obama administration's alleged Wilsonian progressivism makes dead George Washington cry in heaven."

While it doesn't help the hispanic vote a commercial I remmember as quite clever is the Pat Buchanan "meatball" ad.

The Republican Party has reject the 19th Century Whig rhetoric that characterizes the GOP position on immigration. Any Republican who dares voice any semblance of sympathy for Latino immigrants is condemned for supporting "amnesty" and "open borders." At the very least, the GOP needs to articulate and propose a reasonable, realistic, compassionate and comprehensive solution to the southern border problem. Merely moving the Berlin Wall to Arizona won't cut it.

The only solution to the 'souther border problem' is to seal it with cement, razor wire, searhlights, and armed guards. Reason dictates that compassion is irrelevant to that task.

Policies for the issuance of visas, naturalization, deportation, &c. are separate problems.

Well said, Pete. "Messaging" is important. And it will be even more difficult to hark back to the Founding principles as our public schools continue to deteriorate and teach kids nothing -- or worse, misinform them.

Paddyspig, regulating and limiting entrance into a country is a normal part of a nation-state's responsibilities, as a study of Mexico's immigration policies would indicate - though I would not want to strictly imitate that harsh legal framework. Immigration policy should be made primarily based on considerations of the national interest (though there is alot of room to debate what that might be.) To the extent that your invocation of compassion is intended to have meaning beyond amnesty and open (Southern) borders, arguments for an immigration policy in which non-infinite slots are doled out based on compassion would tend to reduce the number of entrants from Mexico.

I think you seriously distort the Republican Party's internal debate on immigration. Not only is sympathy (to the extent that you mean sympathy as something other than amnesty)not politically dangerous, the last Republican President was a supporter of amnesty. The last Republican presidential candidate was also a supporter of amnesty who made the most unconvincing possible conversion to enforcement first.

There will of course some nonzero internal criticism for any Republican courtship of Latino voters, buts let's keep things in perspective. I believe that every nonmarginal 2012 Republican presidential candidate will be willing to express sympathy and respect for Latino voters - though that might not go along with an issue agenda that you approve of.

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It looks like Democrats won the Latino vote for Congress by about 2 to 1.  Ruy Teixeira argues that this is in line with the slightly more than 2 to 1 margins that Democrats won among Latinos in the 2006 and 2008 congressional ... Read More

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