When it looked like President Barack Obama would secure another four years (thanks in part to a growing Hispanic electorate) last week, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly attributed Gov. Mitt Romney's imminent failure to a new "voting public who want stuff," signifying an end to a "traditional America."
"The white establishment is now the minority," he said. "The voters, many of them, feel this economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You're gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama....People feel that they are entitled to things."
In other words, O'Reilly was implying that this new "stuff"-loving, anti-traditional, voting public – largely made up of Latinos – sees itself as a victim. But recent public opinion surveys by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Census bureau highlight the high value that Latino voters place in self-reliance, hard work, and the entrepreneurial spirit, more than almost any other racial or ethnic group.
While O'Reilly was referring to a large swath of minority voters, the biggest ethnic demographic shift to influence the election was the growth of the Hispanic electorate. Latinos grew to 10 percent of the electorate compared to 7.4 percent in 2008, with 71 percent favoring Obama and 27 percent favoring Romney this year. Just eight years ago, Bush did considerably better with Hispanics, winning around 44 percent of their votes in 2004.
O'Reilly is one of several conservative politicians and pundits who say that minority groups are looking for handouts from the government to fix their problems. Even Republican candidate Mitt Romney remarked in a closed-door fundraising event earlier this summer that he believes 47 percent of voters are dependent on government and think of themselves as victims.
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh noted after Obama won reelection that, "it's just very difficult to beat Santa Claus....People are not going to vote against Santa Claus especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus."
Iowa Rep. Steve King tweeted, "Obama voters chose dependency over Liberty. Now establishment R's want citizenship for illegals. You can't beat Santa Claus with amnesty." And talk show host Sean Hannity said, "More and more Americans have become dependent on that welfare state. As they have, they have found themselves siding with the party of government"
Yet, recent analysis of public attitudes contradicts these judgments. When polled, more Latinos agree (72.9 percent) with the statement, "If racial and ethnic minorities don't do well in life they have no one to blame but themselves," than any other ethnic group, according to a 2011 paper by Stanford professor and Latino Decisions pollster Gary Segura in the Congressional Quarterly Press. Only about 60 percent of whites, blacks and Asian Americans agreed with the same statement. Three-quarters (75 percent) of Latinos also said that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, in a 2011 Pew Hispanic Study.
In contrast, 58 percent of the general public said that hard work can lead to success, and 40 percent said hard work is no guarantee of success. Furthermore, the Latino community is known for being incredibly entrepreneurial, with Latinos opening twice as many businesses as the average American in the 2000s, according to U.S. Census data.
If you've grown up with Hispanic parents, these numbers might not surprise you. It's also worth pointing out that any group, including Latinos, can believe in self reliance and also believe in government programs. Latinos actually fall left of white Americans when it comes to questions regarding the size and role of government. This is why Segura argues that individualism and belief in a larger government are not mutually exclusive.
"The belief in an energetic government aggressively addressing social problems is not the same as dependence or a "welfare mentality," Segura wrote last year. "Belief in an effective government and belief in self-reliance and individual effort can go together quite nicely."
Another piece of data worth noting is that Latinos tend to be poorer than non-Latinos, but they also tend to be more hopeful for future economic success than other ethnicities. The Latino community is incredibly optimistic that opportunities in the United States, hard work, and a good education will allow their children to climb the socioeconomic ladder, according to recent studies by Pew.
It's true that Latinos are more likely to be beneficiaries and supporters of health care, college-tuition assistance, and other government aid programs. The same can be said, however, for poor Republicans in general, 80 percent of whom believe that the government should do more to help the needy and support programs that offer security to the poor, according to a 2005 Pew study. Like Latinos, poor Republicans are marked by an optimistic individualism and a strong-held belief in self reliance.
So if the Republican Party wants to win more Hispanic voters (which they desperately need in order to gain national majorities), it's critical to focus on the realities of the Latino community, like how much they value their work ethic. Attacks like O'Reilly's don't serve a purpose – and given how things played out for the GOP last week – they don't serve the Party's cause either.