An Associated Press story Thursday expresses surprise at the large number of Latinos reliably supporting Republicans, including President Donald Trump. It should serve as a wakeup call for both major political parties.

Hispanics comprise the country’s largest ethnic minority demographic, and 53 percent identified as white in the 2010 census.

Demographers expect the Hispanic population to triple by 2050. Given the AP’s findings and other relevant indicators, Democrats have no assurance of maintaining a large advantage among Latino voters. Republicans should learn how to appeal to the Hispanic population as a potential bloc of growing support.

“Though Latino voters are a key part of the Democratic coalition, there is a larger bloc of reliable Republican Latinos than many think,” the article explains. “And the GOP’s position among Latinos has not weakened during the Trump administration, despite the president’s rhetoric against immigrants and the party’s shift to the right on immigration.”

The AP commissioned a survey by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and found 32 percent of Latinos voted Republican in November. A nearly identical percentage voted for Trump in 2016.

“The question is not are Democrats winning the Hispanic vote — it’s why aren’t Democrats winning the Hispanic vote 80-20 or 90-10 the way black voters are?” said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster, as quoted by the AP.

The story quoted Pedro Gonzalez, a 55-year-old Colombian immigrant who originally opposed Trump but became a supporter after the 2016 election. Gonzalez, pastor of suburban Denver evangelical church, said Trump won him over by defending religious liberty, opposing abortion and appointing pro-life judges throughout the country.

The Rev. Sam Rodriguez, based in Sacramento, gave the Associated Press a similar view of his growing congregation’s support for the GOP.

“Why do 30 percent of Latinos still support Trump? Because of the Democratic Party’s obsession with abortion,” Rodriguez said. “It’s life and religious liberty and everything else follows.”

The AP survey found evangelicals comprise about one-quarter of Latino voters.

That number may only get better for Republicans. Conservative evangelical churches are successfully recruiting Hispanics away from the more liberal Catholic church in droves, as discovered by a Pew Research poll. More Catholics voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton than Trump in 2016, and the Catholic vote went for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Evangelicals, by contrast, overwhelmingly vote for Republicans in nationwide elections. They supported Trump by 81 percent, contributing significantly to his victory.

If Democrats count on liberal immigration policies to maintain or grow Hispanic support, they will make a mistake. Pew Research polls consistently show immigration as a low priority of Hispanic voters. The demographic consistently ranks education, jobs, and health care as priorities that outrank immigration by double digits.

“Hispanics’ focus on education as a top issue makes sense,” explains a 2014 Pew Research Center assessment of multiple surveys. “In 2010, Hispanics had the highest birth rates — 80 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age…”

In 2017, the fertility rate remained considerably higher among Hispanics than blacks and non-Hispanic whites. Given the Hispanic population’s disproportionately low divorce rate, the birth rate will likely remain higher than the national average.

If Republicans devise a meaningful health care agenda, and continue fighting for school choice and other pro-minority educational reforms, they can make enormous gains among Hispanics — the primary growth demographic for evangelical churches. They should look to Florida as the model, where Hispanics helped Republicans win two statewide elections.

“The 2018 election was good to Democrats, but Florida disappointed them,” the AP explains. “They couldn’t convince enough of the state’s often right-leaning Cuban-American voters to support Sen. Bill Nelson, who was ousted by the GOP’s Spanish-speaking Gov. Rick Scott, or rally them behind Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who lost to Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.”

Exit polls showed higher-than-average numbers of minority women voting for Republicans because of their support for disruptive school-choice policies that expand options for minority children.

For both major political parties, Hispanics are the future. Democrats can’t take them for granted, and Republicans should focus on improving education and health care for their kids.

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