Sealing the deal?

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What Republicans' 'Demographic Death Spiral' Looks Like

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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In a June 2008 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of Hispanic voters, 49 percent of them viewed Republican nominee-to-be John McCain positively, while 47 percent had a negative impression. In November of that year, Barack Obama won the Hispanic vote over McCain by 67 percent to 31.

In a poll last month by the same group, Donald Trump's favorable-unfavorable rating among Hispanics was 15-75. Where McCain's rating had been a wash, Trump's is negative by a 5-to-1 ratio. In a hypothetical matchup with Hillary Clinton, Hispanics preferred Clinton over Trump by 70 percent to 21 percent.

No concerted Democratic advertising campaign has yet informed Hispanic voters of the full array of Trump's positions and statements. If he is the nominee, the negative campaign against him will be a barrage. Yet he is losing by 49 points before a general-election contest has even begun. Senator Ted Cruz, who is emerging as perhaps the lone alternative to Trump, is viewed negatively by twice as many Hispanics as view him positively.

Republicans have given up flirting with disaster; they're embracing it with gusto. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has been saying for years that the party is in a "demographic death spiral." The 2016 election threatens to accelerate it so profoundly that the party could be out of the presidential running for years.

Black voters, having watched Republicans devote the past seven years to efforts to destroy the nation's first black president, may have some lingering hard feelings. Asian voters tend to be highly educated and live in cosmopolitan centers -- both conducive to Democratic voting tendencies. As best exit polls can measure a relatively small population, Asians voted for Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012 by almost 3 to 1.  

The few 2016 GOP presidential candidates who projected openness to Hispanics -- Graham, Jeb Bush, John Kasich -- have found little support among Republican voters. Cruz and Marco Rubio have competed with Trump to convey hostility to undocumented immigrants, Rubio with the added insult of betrayal after having previously sponsored legislation to grant them citizenship.

Pew Research Center projects that four million more Hispanics will be voting in 2016 than in 2012. If Trump is the nominee, typically lackluster Hispanic turnout -- they were about 17 percent of the population in 2012 but only 10 percent of voters -- could rise. Confronting the Trump threat, Hispanic groups around the country are seeking to register and rally new and occasional voters. The New York Times reported that Trump's rise may be spurring an increase in Hispanic naturalization. Millennials, Pew has reported, make up almost half of eligible Hispanic voters. If the Trump era solidifies their partisan loyalties, they could vote Democratic for years to come.

The Democratic case to Hispanics rests on fear but includes more. Hispanic unemployment under Obama has fallen to less than 6 percent. According to Obama administration data, about four million Hispanic adults have gained health insurance under Obamacare since October 2013. The ranks of uninsured Hispanic adults have declined by more than 25 percent.

In the swing state of Florida, about one quarter of the population is Hispanic, up from 17 percent when George W. Bush won the hanging chad election of 2000. According to Pew, Hispanics accounted for 72 percent of growth in the number of registered Florida Democrats between 2006 and 2014. In less than a decade, the number of Hispanic registered voters increased by 56 percent and the number of Hispanics identifying as Democrats or having no party affiliation each increased by about 80 percent. Meanwhile, registered Hispanic Republicans grew by only 14 percent.

California, where the already heavily Hispanic and Asian population suggests roughly where the country as a whole is headed in future decades, is frequently cited as a precautionary tale for Republicans. Hispanics are about 23 percent of voters in the state. According to Paul Mitchell at Political Data Inc., about 54 percent of Hispanics are registered Democrats and 16 percent are Republicans.

Anti-immigration measures in California in the early 1990s led to short-term gains for Republicans. They are now widely viewed as a political disaster. California is so pro-immigrant that a 2014 poll showed 86 percent of adults there favored a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

California-based pollster Ben Tulchin, a Democrat, said that Hispanic voters alone are responsible for a net 15-point gain to Democratic candidates over the past quarter century. In 2010 and 2014, when Republicans swept offices across the country in a conservative wave, Democrats dominated statewide races in California.

Some analysts have suggested that Trump-fueled Republicans might profit from higher turnout among white voters. It's certainly possible. But how are nonwhite voters, who represent a greater share of the electorate every four years, to interpret the further concentration of the GOP into a white party? As benign?

Republicans complaining about Trump's lack of fidelity to conservative principles are like a man whining about a light rain as a tornado bears down on him. Trump's deviations from conservative orthodoxy are nothing compared with his aggressive alienation of the nation's fastest-growing voting blocs. Birtherism, attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and the elevation of racial fear and resentment from political undercurrent to organizing principle pose long-term threats. Republican voters may be in the process of nominating a political race warrior. But the party, let alone the country, can ill afford a war.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net