Latinos Are Not a Math Problem

Nov 25, 2014
3:04 PM

Cue Al Pacino again.

I really was trying my best to not revisit the false U.S. Latino narrative that continues to spin from David Leonhardt, editor of The New York Times‘ The Upshot blog, and Nate Cohn, Upshot’s appointed U.S. Latino political expert—both clear examples of  “Latinidad without Latinos”, to quote Blanca Vega.

You think that The Upshot would have rethought its editorial direction by now, when studies like this one or this one refuted what Leonhardt and Cohn misreported earlier this year, causing one very dangerous conclusion that some in the English-language media took to be be true. (By the way, Leonhardt is the author of “Hispanics, the New Italians,”  which links to my former professor’s much-maligned “The Hispanic Challenge”.)

You also think that Leonhardt and Cohn would have actually written more about the complexities of that identity, once they realized how much they had misinterpreted. For instance, all they needed to do was read this one essay published on this site, admit that they are feeding the populace a false theme and promise to learn from it all.

As you might expect, they haven’t learned much.

I will admit: I stopped paying attention to Cohn after our group managed to unravel the “Latinos as the new whites” message. Our point was made, it was extremely well-received, leading to necessary perspectives and not surprisingly, confirmed to our group that my first column about it all was not unfounded. In fact, the momentum of that dialogue led to an even larger and necessary discussion about identity and diversity. It even sparked a very solid New York Times story about the whole issue.

Nonetheless, Cohn and Leonhardt (as well as other race and identity writers) are determined to tell you otherwise. What started out as sudden curiosity from non-Latino reporters and editors about U.S. Latino identity has turned into a bizarre (and coordinated?) obsession. We must prove that this demographic change will not make a difference at all in the current dichotomy of the United States. Don’t worry, majority: the mainstream U.S. or the power dynamic won’t change. Latinos will be just like us.



Earlier this summer, Cohn wrote about the lack of Latino voting influence, and while he makes valid points, it is part of the problem we have today: the false premise that U.S. Latino voters don’t really matter and in fact, they will very likely never matter. Cohn is at least aware that the demographic will indeed change, but according to his own take, he can’t determine how this will impact anything, because you know, that whole “white” thing from what he wrote previously and doubled down on? See the connection?

new November 20 analysis by Cohn states, “…a close look at demographic data and recent election results suggest that the Republicans do not necessarily need significant gains among Hispanic voters to win the presidency.”

He then writes this:

Yes, the next Republican presidential candidate will be making a big gamble if he or she doesn’t make meaningful gains among Hispanic voters, especially in Florida. But the Hispanic vote cannot single-handedly determine the presidency, as one could be forgiven for believing based on post-2012 election commentary.

Or better stated, you U.S. Latinos aren’t that important. Get over yourselves and stop bragging about how you are going to change the makeup of this country.

Yet the rest of the piece is a study in contradictions. Just read these paragraphs:

This idea may seem jarring, given that Mitt Romney took just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2012 loss to Mr. Obama, according to the exit polls, while George W. Bush won about 40 percent in his 2004 victory.

But in 2016 Hispanics will represent just 12 percent of eligible voters, and between 9 and 10 percent of actual voters. That’s a lot, but it’s not large enough to grant or deny Republicans the presidency.

The math is simple: A 10-point gain among 10 percent of the electorate yields an additional point in the popular vote. Mr. Obama won by a 3.9-point margin in 2012. So even if the next Republican presidential candidate received the magical 40 percent of Hispanic voters that Mr. Bush received in 2004 — which seems unlikely in a fairly competitive national election — it still wouldn’t erase Mr. Romney’s deficit in the popular vote.

Later in the piece, Cohn offers more contradictions:

Improving among white Northern voters is the core of the G.O.P. route to victory, regardless of whether the party makes gains with Hispanic voters. If the Republicans can’t make gains among white Northerners and hold Mr. Romney’s share of white Southerners, it just won’t really matter whether they receive 25 or 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

But if the Republicans don’t make any gains among Hispanic voters, they will be taking a big risk. Hispanic voters are still important — and it’s easy to imagine a situation in which Republican gains among Hispanics are in fact necessary to win.

That situation turns on Florida. The Republicans don’t have an especially credible path to the presidency without Florida’s 29 electoral votes. The easiest alternative might be for Republicans to flip Virginia and Ohio, scale the so-called Blue Wall in Pennsylvania, and then pick up 12 additional electoral votes from some combination of Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. The G.O.P. path to the presidency all but closes if the Democrats combine Florida and Pennsylvania.

So what it is?

Do Republicans need Latino voters or not?

Latino voters don’t matter, but then they do?

This is where Cohn lacks a deep understanding of U.S. Latinos. He continues to look at the community as a math problem, instead of a community that is growing, while challenging and redefining itself each and every day.

Anyone who is following the soul of U.S. Latino politics right now will tell you: All this electoral strategy talk is irrelevant if Republicans continue to go hardcore extreme on immigration.

What Cohn fails to highlight is that since 2004, that “magical 40 percent” has been plummeting. Does Cohn even explore the fact that Romney’s 27% could dip in 2016, no matter who the Republican candidate is? That is where Cohn drops the ball. Because while new polls and election eve polls are saying that it’s all about “immigration, immigration and immigration,” Cohn doesn’t even discuss the very real possibility that U.S. Latino support will steadily decrease for Republicans if it continues to follow this extreme immigration path. For example, what if U.S. Latino support for Republicans plunges to 20% or 15%, all because of the rhetoric coming out of the Beltway?


And (if you permit me), Cohn didn’t even begin to take into account the other very real possibility that the Democratic ticket could have a Latino on the ticket, which could lead Republicans to do the same.

Julian Castro or Ted Cruz? Who wins that one? The Mexican American who represents the largest Latino ethnic group in the United States or the Cuban American whose ethnic group is even losing its mojo in Florida? Wouldn’t such a scenario would trump all these mathematical voter turnout discussions?

And you don’t think having a Castro, a Gutiérrez, a Cruz, a Sandoval or a Martínez would not energize U.S. Latino voters for their respective parties? Why not talk about that?

Or what if Republicans actually tried to pass immigration reform in the next two years? That alone could help win back the White House.

Less math and more soul.

So Cohn wants to keep talking about lack of political influence and power?

Such power and influence have just begun.

Which brings me to my last point. Last night, Cohn had serious issue with a Latino Decisions poll that basically said 89% of U.S. Latino voters favor the president’s executive action on immigration and also said that Congress is to blame for all this inaction. While I personally think President Obama gets off a little bit easy on this one poll, I was not surprised one bit about the results or what Latino Decisions’ Matt Barreto said, “This is the most unified we have ever seen Latino public opinion on any issue.  Whether you look at Democrats or Republicans, Foreign-born or U.S.-born, or 4th-generation college educated respondents, Latino voters are universally supporting this decisions by President Obama.”

Nevertheless, Cohn’s tweets about the intent of the poll and its conclusions made him appear skeptical, shocked and incredulous. There must be some type of biased Latino agenda, for sure. Such reaction speaks to that lack of deep understanding, the fact that to many U.S. Latinos, the issue still matters and anyone who thinks Republicans can continue to ignore the U.S. Latino vote by staying stubbornly neo-nativist on immigration just doesn’t truly comprehend the dynamics of U.S. Latino voters.

And please don’t bring up the midterms as “proof.” Latinos didn’t vote because they were done with being the Democrats’ political piñata pawn, not because of Republican candidates and what they represented.

So to summarize:

  • No, U.S. Latinos are not the next Italians. (My Bronx Italian side could have a field day with that conclusion.)
  • U.S. Latinos are not the next whites.
  • U.S. Latinos are not the next group of disengaged voters.
  • They are the future, and anyone who is telling your otherwise fears change and how that change will eventually lead to structural transformations in this country.

Cohn is just one voice of that fear. I am sure he will disagree with me and say I lack reading comprehension skills, but what he fails to realize is that I wrote this column because so many of my friends shared his latest piece with me and just shook their heads. (That’s why I started this piece with Pacino.)

It’s clear: U.S. Latinos are sick and tired of having others speak for them, especially those from behind the masthead of a newspaper that would greatly benefit from a real infusion of diversity and more authentic perspectives when it comes to substantive analysis about the U.S. Latino world.

Cohn can keep spouting all the numbers he wants about what it is to be a U.S Latino in this country and whether we matter or not.

As a community, we reject them.

We matter.

Basta ya.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog,, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.