Who Will Inherit the Clinton Coalition?

Obama’s McGovern coalition — uniting white liberals and black voters — has attracted warm enthusiasm, but Clinton’s coalition has received far less attention. Many believe, for obvious reasons, that Republicans have lost Latino voters for a generation. But as a friend suggested to me the other day, we are likely seeing the beginning of the end of “Latino” as a meaningful sociological category.

We all know that America’s Latino population is diverse, and that Mexican-origin Latinos, Cubans, and Dominicans are all very different. Layer over that varying degrees of assimilation, affluence, and intermarriage, and layer over that patterns of domestic migration and child-rearing. A large Mexican influx slows assimilation to some extent in some regions, but Mexico’s age structure is changing. At the same time, Mexican social norms are changing to allow for more female labor force participation — a force that will further reduce the Mexican influx. Can we imagine, say, a right-of-center Mexican American candidate effectively arguing that some form of moderate immigration restriction will prove beneficial to Mexican Americans? Yes. We can also imagine elite-educated Latino liberals who favor a liberalized immigration regime. These tendencies will likely clash. Pretty soon there won’t be a recognizably distinctive Latino politics.

The force that retards black-white integration — persistent social discomfort and anti-exogamy taboos — is far less strong in the case of Latino-Anglo integration. At the risk of being a little silly, consider the case of well-regarded actor Jessica Alba. We’re fast approaching a point at which non-Spanish-speaking Alba, whose father is a native-born American of Mexican origin, will become the norm. However much Alba insists that she wants her child to be Spanish-speaking and Latino-identified, she is half-Danish and her partner, Cash Warren, is not of Mexican origin. Identity is volitional to a very great extent, to be sure, but convincing the child of this union to embrace La Raza-ite politics will likely be a trying and time-consuming endeavor. I’m not sure Alba and Warren and up to the task.

We think of Obama as a transformational figure. But recall that his coalition — the Lamont coalition — has been around at least since the McGovern era. The important difference is that the coalition has, perhaps temporarily, grown larger as a share of the population. As more foreign-born Latinos acquire citizenship, as the native-born Latino population increases, etc., that is likely to change. And that could be a very good thing for center-right politics.