Forget Immigration. It's Big Government Hispanic Voters Want.
If we are to believe the polls, Hispanic voters love big government. Just adore it. They want more of it. Lots more. And they will vote to make that happen.
Pundits are currently tying themselves into knots trying to figure out how the presidential candidates' positions on immigration will impact their popularity with Hispanic voters.
The answer? Who cares? What drives Hispanic voters is simple, and it was captured with shocking clarity by a Pew Hispanic Center poll in April.
A mind-blowing 75 percent of Hispanics tell Pew they want bigger government with more services. Contrast that with just 41 percent of the American public that says it wants bigger government with more services. (Some 45 percent of the general American population wants smaller government with fewer services. For Hispanics, it's 19 percent.)
This Hispanic love affair with big government isn't a short-term result of the Great Recession. It isn't a temporary product of the first-generation poverty; immigrants, legal or otherwise, have always struggled through in America. This affection for big government is uniquely cultural for Hispanics, and so strongly embedded that it apparently persists for generations.
Some 81 percent of first-generation Hispanic immigrants tell Pew pollsters they prefer big government. In the second generation, it's 72 percent. By the third generation, the number is just shy of 60 percent. Contrast that, again, with the mere 41 percent of the general American population that feels the same.
Part of this probably comes from the fact that most Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, come from countries with deeply socialist and often quasi-dictatorial governments. This is what they are used to, except that here, the government benefits are much more generous, providing a standard of living that far exceeds that of their countries of origin in most cases.
By our measurements, this standard of living is abject poverty. But when you come from a Guatemalan village with a single well and you've spent your whole life carrying water from that well in buckets for cooking and you've never seen a doctor, flipped a working light switch, or experienced indoor plumbing, our lowest standards of living must seem like Nirvana.
Why push your children to excel when by merely coming here and putting your American-born children on government programs, you've already provided a life for them far beyond what would be possible, or even fathomable, where you come from? You, too, would develop a near-religious fervor for government programs, as Hispanics apparently have, had this been your history.
It wasn't Barack Obama who was the face of amnesty in the media during the high-pitched debate over that law in the middle of the decade. It was John McCain, who got a mere 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, compared to 67 percent for Obama. In fact, this erosion of Hispanic support for Republicans who are staunch supporters of amnesty has continued steadily and rapidly since 2004, when George Bush, a hardcore amnesty supporter, won 44 of the Hispanic vote. Romney is currently polling at 25 percent, according to USA Today.
The reason for this is simple. As the millions of Hispanic illegal immigrants who came here in the 1990s and their children gain voting rights and come of voting age, they are figuring out -- correctly -- who the big-government candidates are and supporting them. This is why Obama, one of the biggest-government candidates of all time, is running away with the Hispanic vote in polling done before he called off federal immigration enforcement in Arizona this week. Hispanic support for Democratic candidates is in direct proportion to their mutual fervor for big government.
And why is this fervor increasing? Hispanics are in many ways more desperately dependent on government in the second and third generations than they were in the first. As the Washington Post reported, second-generation Hispanic immigrants are now failing to graduate from high school at a higher rate than blacks.
The stereotype of the illegal immigrant who comes here with only a heartfelt desire to do the jobs Americans don't want in the hopes of pulling himself up by the bootstraps is a dangerously deceptive one that simply doesn't persist in subsequent generations.
The proportion of Hispanic children being raised by a single parent is higher in the third generation than in the second, the New York Times reported.
In fact, as the Washington Post reported:
Even as the teen pregnancy rate for other racial and ethnic groups has fallen substantially in the past 15 years, it remains stubbornly high among Hispanics. As many as one in four Hispanics born in the United States to immigrant parents gives birth to a child before her 20th birthday, according to a statistical analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center.
Government programs have made all of this possible. In the process, this has doomed much of an entire generation of Hispanic children to poverty, and thus government dependence.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that in raw numbers, the number of impoverished Hispanic children had exceeded the number of poor white children for the first time. There are now 6.1 million poor Hispanic children in America, compared to 5 million poor white kids and 4.4 million blacks.
Overall, one-third of Americans living in poverty are Hispanic.
The urgency of that rate of self-created poverty has spurred a fervor for government programs among Hispanics.
This is what Hispanics were trying to tell perplexed pollsters earlier this week who were surprised to find, in a USA Today/Gallup poll, that second-generation Hispanics, or the children born here to foreign parents, rank immigration issues dead last on their list of political priorities.
Big government paved their mothers' way out of that Guatemalan village and paid for their birth here -- and, by generation two, for the birth of their children. It was a saving grace, the only one possible, for a village family that otherwise had no hope. And generations later, they'll apparently vote to defend it.
Tara Servatius is a radio talk show host. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at @TaraServatius.