Hispanic Voters and the Role of Government

In the Hispanic electorate, if we peel off most dogmatic arguments against free markets, an intellectual discomfort with freedom itself becomes obvious. This discomfort is what the preference for bigger government reveals. The Hispanic intellectual uneasiness with freedom is dismaying, because freedom is the only enduring foundation for improving the human condition.

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By José Azel l August 22, 2016

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Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center reveal that Hispanic eligible voters will reach a record 27.3 million this election cycle; an increase of over 19% since the 2012 elections. As a category, the Hispanic electorate will make up a record 11.9% of all U.S. eligible voters, nearly the same as black voters, who make up 12.4 of the electorate. Significantly, youth is a bigger defining characteristic of Hispanic eligible voters than for any other group. And although specific interest-group issues such as U.S. immigration policy are often offered as the main drivers for the Hispanic vote, there is a more fundamental sociopolitical driver at play.

The sociopolitical heritage from Spain, and the post colonial experience of Latin America, has begotten in the Hispanic population an understanding of the role of government significantly different from the principles of limited government embraced by America’s Founding Fathers. According to the Pew Research Survey, “When it comes to the size of government, Hispanics are more likely than the general public to say they would rather have a bigger government providing more services than a smaller government with fewer services.”

The difference is not small; overall 75% of Hispanics prefer a bigger government, compared with only 41% of the general U.S. public. Interestingly though, the Hispanic support for large government declines as American values are absorbed. For 81% of first generation Hispanic immigrants, a bigger government is more desirable. For the second generation the preference drops to 72%, and by the third generation only 58% still prefer a bigger government.

The Hispanic preference for a bigger government prevails regardless of party affiliation, and Hispanic Catholics are particularly supportive of a larger government. Overall, 56% of U.S. Hispanics either identify with the Democratic Party or are independent who lean democratic, while 21% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Parenthetically, Cubans are somewhat of a political anomaly. Cubans who are registered to vote are closely split in party affiliation: 47% identify with the GOP, while 44% tilt toward the Democrats.

Clearly, the political philosophies of classical liberalism that limit the role of government, and place the individual center stage are not nearly as ingrained in Hispanic heritage as they are in the American sociopolitical historical discourse. Classical liberalism does not come naturally to Hispanics. To some degree, the Hispanic sociopolitical heritage undermines the pluralistic participation of Hispanics in the civil institutions of free societies.

The Hispanic preference for a larger, more intrusive government is a manifestation of collectivist and statist political tendencies that seek a uniform societal common end. In contrast, the Founding Fathers understood that a free society is a pluralistic society that champions individual rights without a universal common end. The Founding Father’s vision necessarily leads to people achieving unequal results since individuals differ in ability and interest. A society which seeks to implement collectivist policies cannot protect individual freedoms, since the pursuit of socialist egalitarian goals necessitates the coercive action of big government.

Latin American political thought has been historically seduced by the siren song of “social justice” and has trouble accepting the unequal results of the marketplace; that is, the unequal outcomes of economic freedom. Unhappy with the results of freedom, Latin American political thought invokes the power of the state to restrict freedoms. This political philosophy ignores the Kantian precept that laws must be based on the protection of rights, not on an attempt to create happiness. Characteristically, Hispanic politics lead to some form of messianic strong man collectivism or other ideological mystical grotesqueries.

On the other hand, small government capitalism is rationalistic, anti-heroic, and anti-mystical. Free markets, with all their warts, are the economic system of free people. In the Hispanic electorate, if we peel off most dogmatic arguments against free markets, an intellectual discomfort with freedom itself becomes obvious. This discomfort is what the preference for bigger government reveals. The Hispanic intellectual uneasiness with freedom is dismaying, because freedom is the only enduring foundation for improving the human condition.


José Azel arrived in the U.S. in 1961 from communist Cuba as a 13 year-old political exile with Operation Pedro Pan, the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere. He is currently a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami. Dr. Azel earned a Masters Degree in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami, and is author of Mañana in Cuba: The Legacy of Castroism and Transitional Challenges for Cuba. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.