Why Latino voters won’t decide control of House in 2014

by Nathan L. Gonzales July 29, 2013 · 11:51 AM EDT

The Latino population is growing and Latino voters are becoming more influential. But that doesn’t mean they are going to decide who controls the House of Representatives in the 2014 elections.

A new analysis by Latino Decisions, a public opinion firm, and America’s Voice, a group that works with “progressive, faith-based, labor, civil rights, and grassroots groups” to “enact policy change that guarantees full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants and their families,” identifies almost four dozen Republican-held seats where Latino voters could be influential.

The list included seats where the Latino voting-age population exceeds the 2012 margin of victory by the GOP member of congress and swing districts won by President Barack Obama and the Republican Member which also had “notable” Latino populations.

But while the poll conducted by Latino Decisions is instructive of Hispanic attitudes toward immigration reform, the accompanying analysis seriously overstates the influence of Hispanic voters in the battle for the House, at least next year.

“If the GOP loses just 17 seats in 2014, the Democrats will regain majority control,” wrote Dr. David F. Damore, senior analyst at Latino Decisions. While the number 17 is correct and gaining less than a dozen and a half seats might seem like a very reachable goal, a detailed analysis of all 435 House districts shows that it will be a very difficult task for Democrats — no matter what Latinos do.

Based on the current number of districts with a chance of changing partisan hands and the national political environment, it’s not even certain that Democrats will gain any seats at all, according to most dispassionate analysts.

But the biggest stretch of the analysis is the groups’ definition of Latino influence. If the Latino voting-age population (VAP) of the district exceeded the margin of victory by the Republican candidate, then the study assumed that Latino voters would make up that difference and put the Democratic candidate over the top.

First, the Latino percentage of the electorate is considerably smaller than the Latino percentage of the voting-age population. Hispanics make up approximately 16 percent of the United States population, according to the 2010 census, but Hispanic voters made up just 10 percent of the electorate in the 2012 presidential election and 8 percent of electorate in the 2010 midterm elections, according to exit polls.

Second, keeping that dropoff in mind, over half of the 24 districts listed in the top two tiers by Latino Decisions likely have Hispanic electorates of less than 10 percent. And seven of those districts could have a Hispanic electorate of less than two percent.

Third, the Republicans’ narrow margins of victory was likely in spite of losing the Hispanic vote by a significant margin. So, the number of Latino voters who didn’t already vote Democratic is far less than the voting age population. Danmore seems to assume that all new Latino voters would vote Democratic, hardly a certainty.

That doesn’t mean Latino voters can’t or won’t have an impact in some close races in 2014 or that the community won’t be increasingly influential in future elections. But to say Latinos may decide control of the House next year is more than a stretch. It is primarily a reflection of America’s Voice’s immigration agenda rather than a cold-blooded analysis of Latino political clout during the 2014 midterm elections.

The dirty secret of close elections is that if a contest is decided by just a few thousand votes or less, every demographic matters. Latino voters matter, but so do black voters or Asian voters or suburban moms, or just plain old white guys.