They used to say that politics was in inexact science, but that was in the days before political scientists began taking themselves as seriously as the politicians.
Politics is an inexact science because you can’t quantify or qualify it—or isolate people like guinea pigs or chimpanzees, and human nature can be even more unpredictable than the weather.
Hispanic politics looked at from different angle
Hispanic politics is only the latest example. In this presidential election year especially, Latinos are being analyzed and studied by strategists, commentators and even scholars who are all either trying to figure out the immediate leanings or predict the future of the republic.
Some do it for ratings, others for professional prestige but the bottom line is that they are perhaps all best described by that great quote of Moliere’s observation about the world’s oldest profession: “At first I did it for love. Then I did it for a few friends. And finally I did it for money.”
And in today’s media market, there’s a lot of money to be made as a talking head with a unique insight on politics or grants from foundations seeking a foothold in understanding Hispanics—confusing the latest opinion for fact as if buying those fake Rembrandts painted on black velvet that vendors hawk at the border is the same as collecting art.
Latino vote changing America?
Ever since 1978, when the first beer commercial proclaiming “The Decade of The Hispanic,” the biggest question surrounding the Latino vote has been how it will change America? Would all those hordes of new voters tilt the scales so one-sided to the Democrats that it would spell the ruin of the Republican Party?
It was a question built around the assumption that Hispanics voted overwhelmingly Democratic, an idea bore out in the closest thing in electoral politics to controlled scientific groups: Heavily or almost exclusively Latino precincts in Los Angeles, San Antonio or other cities through the Southwest.
Those precincts were all working class and poor neighborhoods where Hispanics had the same economic bonds on top of language, heritage and religion.
But as America changed, so did the economics among Latinos as well as their housing patterns. In their upward mobility, middle class and upper middle class Hispanic families moved into the suburbs without restrictions.
The phenomenon of that assimilation and acculturation is that these upwardly bound Hispanics became more difficult to study, especially as they intermarried and their ethnicity became virtually impossible to determine based on non-Spanish surnames.
Often, these suburban Hispanics, valuing their middle-class privacy, also became less eager to share details of their political, social and economic transformations with inquiring researchers and scholars.
Today, it can be strongly argued that few truly have insight into these middle-class and upper-class Hispanics, and that too often the easy statistical analyses developed from studying the heavily Latino working class and poor precincts and communities are used to erroneously describe all Latinos.
In Texas, for instance, researchers and scholars privately acknowledge that there is no way of accurately gauging the increasing numbers of Hispanics who do not live in the heavily Latino precincts and political districts where those numbers can be quantified.
It is fair to wonder if it is simply coincidence that the last generation’s boom of Hispanic population growth in the Lone Star State has come at the same time that Texas has been transformed from a once solidly Democratic bastion into today’s biggest Red State in the country.
On Nov. 7, Texas voters will almost certainly elect the first Latino U.S. Senator—a Cuban American who happens to be a Republican.
The same argument can be made in Nevada where a Hispanic Republican was elected governor in 2010 or in New Mexico where a Latina was elected governor that same year.
Those who say the Latino vote isn’t up for grabs most often use California as a model, but the politics there are skewered in two ways:
The Golden State was shifting from Republican to Democratic even before the so-called Latino Sleeping Giant woke up, and the GOP assured itself being ostracized among Hispanics in the mid-1990s when it took the lead in the anti-immigrant fervor that has marked conservative politics.
Only foolish, close-minded researchers and scholars would outright deny the possibility that the Hispanic vote could ultimately prove to be as fickle as the political history of America itself.
There was a time in the late 1960s, for instance, when those who opposed lowering the voting age to 18 feared that doing so would radically alter American politics—and researchers and scholars agreed with them: That the youth vote would give the Democratic Party an unfair edge in future elective politics.
The 26th Amendment in 1971 lowered the voting age to 18, increasing the voting numbers to new heights. Yet in the coming years, America elected Nixon, Reagan, Bush and W. Bush—four Republican presidents and three Democrats: Carter, Clinton and Obama.
All in all, perhaps political science researchers and scholars need get out more often.