Analysis: The GOP's 'Hispanic Problem' May Be Bigger Than It Appears

PHOTO:  Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Florida has Rubio.

The Republican Party's "Hispanic problem" is common knowledge to anyone who has looked at the presidential election results. It's become a crucial part of the 2012 narrative. But despite all the ink, airtime and pixels given to the topic since Election Day, you can't fully appreciate the depths of the problem until you match those results up against Hispanic population growth patterns.

The impact of the GOP's Hispanic gap could be bigger than many realize.

The size of the Republicans' challenge becomes clear when the growth in the nation's Hispanic population through Patchwork Nation's 12 county types. The Hispanic population had been growing across the board, but the increases in some county types in particular – the Immigration Nation counties, Monied Burbs and Boom Towns – look to have far-reaching impacts.

The Only Places Obama Did Better

It was always going to be difficult for President Obama to replicate what he did in 2008. In that election he benefited from voters' fatigue with George W. Bush, their fears about the economy and their excitement over a historic election that featured the first African-American presidential nominee in a major party.

That set of circumstances could not be repeated in 2012 and, accordingly, Mr. Obama's percentages dropped. He won by about 4 percentage points nationally in 2012. He won by 7 percentage points in 2008. And across Patchwork Nation his margin of victory was the same or less in all of the 12 types except one – Immigration Nation.

In those Hispanic-heavy communities Mr. Obama actually improved his margin – albeit slightly. He won those counties 51 percent to 47 percent in 2012. He won them 51-48 percent in 2008. (You can see those numbers on WNYC's Patchwork Nation results map.)

What happened? Well those heavily Hispanic places got more Hispanic in the last few years. In 2006, those counties were, on average 36 percent Hispanic. By 2010 they were 46% Hispanic. And that massive growth in the Hispanic vote, plus Mr. Obama's increased margin among Hispanics was enough to grow his victory margin in those places.

To be clear, 51-47 percent is not a blow out. And these counties will be close for the foreseeable future because of the inherent tensions that exist them, as we have notedearlier on Still, the fact that Mr. Obama grew his margin in these places in a year where many of the odds were stacked against him – a weak economy, his position as an incumbent running in a change environment – is a testament to the significance of the support he got from Hispanics.

But the impact of that support looks to have much deeper meanings elsewhere.

The Great Hispanic Diaspora

To understand how the country is changing look below at the maps showing the immigrant population in the United States in 1980 and 2008.

Not all immigrants are Hispanics of course, but over the past few decades Hispanics have made up a large chunk of the United States' immigration population. And the spread of the immigrant population has followed a similar spread of Hispanics into different regions around the country – and into different community types in Patchwork Nation.

All the community types in Patchwork Nation have grown more Hispanic in recent years, with some of the biggest, most electorally significant changes coming in the wealthy Monied Burbs and the exurban Boom Towns.

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