Hispanics Become America's New Majority Minority

The 2010 Census reveals that, for the first time, Hispanics outnumber African Americans in most U.S. metropolitan cities. Political demographer Ruy Teixeira argues that this shift may tilt the political and social landscape nationwide.

NEAL CONAN, host:

The 2010 census shows a lot changed in America over the past 10 years. Detroit's population is down 25 percent. Last week, we talked about some of the reasons why many African-Americans decided to move south across the Mason-Dixon Line from the cities of the Northeast.

Today, another intriguing piece of census data: there is now a new majority minority in many of the nation's urban areas. For the first time, Hispanics outnumber African-Americans in places like Chicago, Grand Rapids and Atlantic City, New Jersey, a change that will tilt the political and social playing field nationwide.

How does this shift affect politics where you live? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Political demographer Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Sentry Foundation and at the Center for American Progress and joins us from a studio there. And Ruy, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. RUY TEIXEIRA (Senior Fellow, Sentry Foundation and Center for American Progress): Great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And it's been some time since Latinos overtook African-Americans in raw numbers as the largest minority group in the country. I guess this should not be a surprise, but Chicago?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Yeah, I know. It's pretty amazing, and it just shows how widely diffused Hispanic growth is becoming in this country, not only affecting metropolitan areas we don't associate with them, like Chicago, but states we don't associate them with, like South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, which are the - have the three highest Hispanic growth rates in the country by state.

CONAN: And as you look across this spectrum, obviously big surprises, but there's Hispanic growth going on in places like Oklahoma City and Omaha. This is going to cause some real changes.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Yes, it is. You know, obviously, it's going to change the culture of those places, just the sheer physical look of them, of course, in terms of diversity. But as we know also, that's going to shift the politics in these states and metropolitan areas in very significant ways because, essentially, you're replacing older white voters with younger Hispanic voters in these - in terms of the makeup of these states. And that's just going to make a big difference to their politics.

CONAN: Well, you also saw a loss of African-American population, not just Detroit, of course, where everybody was leaving, it seems, but places like New York City and Cleveland and other places in the Northeast.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: That's true, though overall the shift is not Hispanics replacing blacks, but rather Hispanics replacing whites, overall.

CONAN: And this, of course, comes in the 2010 census, which is used as the basis to redraw political districts.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Yes. Now, whether and to what extent that will affect the actual districts in terms of advantaging minorities, of course, is very much a matter of political dispute, debate and sometimes outright gerrymandering. So I think, overall, this, the nature of the population growth we've seen in the last decade, should shift the complexion of districts in a way that, overall, should favor the Democrats and their kind of politics, the kind of politics Hispanics and new minorities like Asians tend to support.

But that will be obviously somewhat tempered by the strenuous efforts that will be taken in a number of states to limit the political impact of this on the Republican Party, where they control the governors and governorship in the state legislatures in particular. So it'll be a contested process, I think that's safe to say.

CONAN: But isn't there also going to be a contest within some cities between a black political establishment and an emerging Hispanic political establishment?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: I think that's entirely possible and indeed probable. We will see some of that, though it is interesting that, so far, we haven't seen that be the locus of the most intense conflicts. I mean, there does seem to be a sort of inter-minority solidarity that takes place, certainly on the state level and national level, but even frequently in metropolitan areas. But let's face it, when ethnicities sort of displace one another and their relative weight shift, that does sometimes lead to conflict. Whether that'll be the dominant element of the relations between Hispanics and blacks at this point, I tend to doubt, but I do think it'll be a factor.

CONAN: And for any number of complicated reasons - and not many of them very pretty - it took a very long time for African-Americans to be represented in relation to their numbers. Obviously, it's going to take some time for Hispanics to be represented in reflection to their numbers, too, but perhaps not quite as long?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Yes. I don't think quite as long, I mean, partly because of the, you know, the struggles of African-Americans, which have beaten down a lot of those barriers and just changed the whole culture of the country in terms of how we view diversity and what's right and wrong in terms of political representation. So I think that's going to be a key factor.

But probably the biggest thing holding back the representation of Hispanics in terms of their political influence versus their weight on the population isn't that. It's going to be the fact that, you know, so many of them still can't vote, right? Because so many aren't citizens and they are a much, much younger population by 10 years, for example, in terms of median and age, relative to non-Hispanic whites. So that limits their impact. That will - the gap will lessen over time as the Hispanic population ages.

I mean, one thing people don't understand about the future growth of the Hispanic population in this country is 90 percent of it is going to come from the young Hispanics becoming of voting age in terms of their effect in the electorate. It's not going to be because of immigration over time. It's going to be by people already here becoming eligible to vote.

CONAN: We're talking with Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and at the Center for American Progress, about the impact of exploding numbers of Latinos in many metropolitan areas across the United States, new information from a 2010 Census.

We'd like to hear how this is affecting politics where you live. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

And Ruy, you did see some changes in the Republican Party, with some Latino candidates winning election as Republicans this last time around.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: You did, though, outside of - basically, you don't typically see them getting overwhelming support from Hispanics, though they do get better support than most Republican candidates do. I'd say the message of the 2010 congressional elections was less that than the fact that Hispanics are still sticking with the Democrats in large numbers. And, in fact, there's actually pretty good evidence to suggest that the rate - the support rate for Democrats ascribed to Hispanics by the exit polls is actually probably underestimating the share of the vote they gave to Democrats. That has to do with sampling problems for the exit polls, the kind of Hispanics they tend to capture.

So I think the evidence is pretty strong that the Hispanics are, if anything, doubling down on the Democrats at this point. I mean, Harry Reid wouldn't be senator from Nevada today if it wasn't for the support of the Hispanic population there.

CONAN: Harry Reid, of course, in a very tight race with Sharron Angle there in the state of Nevada. Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. We'll start with Lionel. Lionel's with us on the line from San Antonio.

LIONEL (Caller): Yes. You know, it's going to be very interesting what happens in terms of how every politician looks at this new demographic, because the Latino is going to help decide who's in Congress, who's in the Senate, and have already decided at least one presidential race. I was lucky enough to advise Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and - as well as George W. Bush on the Latino outreach. And I can tell you, it made a real big difference for Republicans when they were able to outreach in the right way.

CONAN: Ruy Teixeira, is he right?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Yeah. I - oh, absolutely. I agree with that. I think it makes a huge difference. The problem the Republicans are having is that they've sort of lost interest in doing it. Under George W. Bush, there was an understanding of the necessity to do that, and Bush was a fairly attractive candidate with which to pursue that. He took it pretty seriously. But we all know what happened when Bush tried to push his immigration reform program in conjunction with Democrats in Congress, and it just crashed and burned because of the nature of the intransigent opposition in huge sections of the Republican party.

So the extent to which Republicans were able to position themselves as the friends of immigrants and Hispanics has very much gone by the wayside in the last several years. And certainly, you'd look at the 2010 election, the kind of candidates that won then and the attitude -attitudes they've been taking toward immigration and Hispanics, then you would not bet a lot of money that they're going to do very well among Hispanic voters in the near future.

I mean, my belief is over the longer term, the Republicans will moderate their position on immigration issues because I think they're going to have to - because of precisely the dynamic the caller's alluding to. But parties sometimes take a long time to change in sensible ways, and I think this is one of those situations.

CONAN: Lionel...

LIONEL: Well, you know, I do think that survival drives the culture, so I agree that the Republicans will moderate the message as we go forward. But, you know, it's interesting that if Democrats call themselves the friend of immigrants, that they haven't done a thing since Obama got elected. He promised to look at the immigration issue and look at it the first year. And he had a majority in both houses, and he still didn't touch it. And he still hasn't touched it. And the reason is that it's a hot potato, and Democrats are just as leery as Republicans are of getting close to the issue.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Well, I disagree with Lionel that they're just as leery. I think that does not fairly characterize the case. I think the Republicans are far more leery, and there are - Democrats have done the equivalent caucus within their ranks that is as opposed to immigration reform as the Republicans have. So I don't think that's true. But I do think, as you say, the Republicans will get around to changing their tune someday. It's just, again, I don't see this happening anytime soon.

CONAN: And he's correct to say the president did not put forward a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, though he did press - and apparently pretty hard - for the DREAM Act, which would have enabled some younger people who attend college or join the military to get American citizenship. Eventually, that did not pass in Congress last December, but it was a priority of the president.

We're talking with Ruy Teixeira about the explosion of the Latino population in municipalities around the country. Places like Chicago and Atlantic City, well, there's now more Hispanics than there are African-Americans.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's get Patrick on the line, Patrick with us from Georgetown in Delaware.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi. I'd like to talk about how, traditionally, Hispanics have very conservative values, but the conservatives are having trouble outreaching to them about things like immigration and the matter.

CONAN: This is an argument I know you're familiar with, Ruy, that on family values, on small business values, the Republican Party believes it ought to be able to appeal to Hispanics, but has difficulty on the immigration issue.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Well, OK. Let's talk about conservative values. The first point to make about these alleged conservative values of Hispanics is that we're talking about social issues. The data are very clear that Hispanics do not vote on the basis of social issues. They vote on the basis of economic issues, about what the government should be doing on education and issues like that. They do not vote in the basis of abortion and gay marriage.

The second point to make is that if we look specifically at attitudes about something like gay marriage, Hispanics are no more conservative than non-Hispanic whites in this country on this particular issue. And young Hispanics, in particular, are relatively liberal on this issue. So I think if the Republicans are hoping to capture this constituency on the basis of outreaching to them on family values, it's not going to work.

I think the issue of upward mobility is a key question. I agree with that, to the extent the caller was talking about that. But, in fact, the chief vehicle to upward mobility that your typical Hispanic sees is education, education, education. That's going to be the vehicle for upward mobility for their children. Not everyone's going to be a small business fan, but everybody knows their kids have to get a good education. And I don't think the Republicans have done a fantastic job of positioning themselves as being the friends of public education and upward mobility in that sense.

CONAN: Patrick, thanks very much.

Let's go next to - this is John, John with us from Mesa, Arizona.

JOHN (Caller): Hey. How's it going, guys?

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Good.

JOHN: Well, what I want to say was I'm in the Phoenix metro area, in Arizona, and, you know, right in the thick of things right now. And it's just been a very divisive chain of events, you know? There's really no middle ground on this issue, at least in my community. You're either like, yeah, you know, anyone who wants to come here, let them come, you know. That's their right, just simply by virtue as them being a human being. Or, you know, they need to follow the, you know, follow the laws of the land and do it the right way if they want to come here, you know?

CONAN: Very little middle ground. Yeah.

JOHN: Absolutely. And, I mean - and I work all over Mesa. That's a city in the Phoenix metro area. And there are parts of Mesa that - and I was born and raised here. There's parts of Mesa that I would rather not go to because of just how it's changed. And I don't have anything against anybody, you know, according to their color or culture. But there are parts of the city that, you know, I'd rather no go to just because of how it's changed. And I think it has taken a downturn. And part of that - I mean, an obvious reason that someone might argue was because of a large influx of Hispanics in that area.

CONAN: Well, John, thank you for the call. I appreciate it.

Ruy Teixeira, as you look ahead towards to the next election, can you see a fewer - a smaller black caucus and a larger Hispanic caucus?

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Well, I don't know about a smaller black caucus, but I think it's probable we'll have a slightly larger Hispanic caucus. You know, a lot depends, of course, on what kind of an election it is in the extent to which primarily Democrats are going to be able to recapture some of the seats they lost. So I'm not sure we're going to see a dramatic reconfiguration of the sort of the minority caucuses in the House of Representatives. I think it's a little bit more of a kind of open question just what kind of turnout we'll see from various minorities, particularly the new minorities in that election and the extent to which they're going to support Obama and how it's going to play out in some of these state races - Senate races, in particular.

I think these are open questions - though, as a kind of continuing theme of what I've been trying to say is I just don't think the Republicans have done a very good job of positioning itself - themselves as a friend of - I mean, you mentioned the DREAM Act, a perfect example of something that conceivably Republicans would get across the aisle and supported as kind of combining upward mobility, it's not blanket amnesty or anything like that, but it's allowing people to get ahead in the best American kind of way, be able to go to college and so on.

But they weren't willing to do it. And I think that's a kind of message they're sending to most Hispanics at this point, and I think that's going to make it very difficult for them to do much better than they did in 2008 among this population, when they lost it by about two to one.

CONAN: Ruy Teixeira, thanks, as always, for your time.

Mr. TEIXEIRA: Hey. Delighted to be here.

CONAN: Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, editor of the book "Red, Blue, and Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics."

Tomorrow, we'll talk about what happens to homeowners in the months and years before that foreclosure notice arrives and how they tried to avoid it.

Join us then. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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