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Tories and ethnic minorities: lessons from George W Bush

7 May 2014

Dan Hannan makes many good points in today’s Telegraph as he considers the Conservatives’ grim failure to attract support from black and ethnic minority voters. This isn’t merely a problem for the Tories, it is a crisis.

As I pointed out yesterday, the Tory share of the BME vote in 2010 was exactly the same as their share of the vote in Scotland: 16%. True, this was an improvement on 2005 when only 11% of BME voters endorsed Conservative candidates but that’s a matter of only modest solace for Tory modernisers.

Naturally (this being British politics) there is a thirst to look elsewhere for examples or lessons that might point towards a solution to this particular Tory problem. Like Paul Goodman, Dan Hannan looks to Canada and not without reason.

Equally reasonably, Janet Daley thinks the party might learn something from George W Bush. This, she concedes, is an unfashionable thought but that’s not something that should bother a Tory.

There is something to it, too. Bush did do better amongst Hispanic voters than did either his predecessors or successors at the head of the Republican ticket. In 2004, quite famously (by the standards of these things) exit polls reported he won 44% of the Hispanic vote.

The trouble is that figure is probably not quite right. Bush undoubtedly did better than most GOP candidates but there is some evidence suggesting he didn’t win more than 40% of the Latino vote. Moreover, Bush benefitted from the Texas factor. He won 43% of the Texas Hispanic vote in 2000 and 49% of it in 2004. Outside his home state he did not do quite as well as the headline, national, figures suggest.

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But, yes, it was still progress. Progress founded, as Daley says, on being engaged with latino voters to a degree unmatched by previous or subsequent GOP candidates. In 2008 John McCain took 31% of the Hispanic vote and four years later Mitt Romney, disastrously, won only 27% of Hispanic votes.

What went wrong? Well, Republicans started talking about immigration much more than they had during the Bush years. And it wasn’t just what they said but the tone in which they said it that mattered. It reinforced the idea that the party sees immigrants as a problem, not a resource.

Immigration is not actually the chief concern of American latino voters. Some surveys suggest only one in three such citizens consider immigration (that is, immigration reform) a vital issue. Jobs, healthcare and the economy matter more. I suspect the same is true of BME voters in the United Kingdom.

But immigration is what you might term a Gateway Issue. You need to get past it before you can speak about other issues of more immediate concern to voters’ actual lives. You need to earn the right to be listened to. You need license to be heard. You need standing.

Which is why you need to show you understand and show you care. Accepting reality – these voters are here and will not be leaving – is the first step but no journey is completed in a single step. You need to demonstrate that they are welcome, that you like them and, most importantly, that you value them and their contributions to society. That you are relaxed, even intensely relaxed, about diversity. Then you have standing to talk about other issues.

Short-term expediency, however, is always powerful. Maximising their white vote was a sensible strategy for Republicans in 2008, just as it is a short-term sticking-plaster for the Tories now. It can help you right now but, most probably, only at the cost (on current trends) of doing worse at the next election and the one after that.

This doesn’t mean you need to favour open borders. A GOP move to comprehensive immigration reform will not, in the short-term, transform their fortunes amongst Hispanic voters any more than a comparable approach (to the extent it exists) by the Tories would improve their chances with BME voters immediately. They would still have to overcome the perception they are the party for rich people. (And, of course, Ronald Reagan’s immigration amnesty didn’t help the GOP very much either. It’s not a one-policy-will-solve-everything issue.)

It’s not as simple as supposing that, hey, if we fix the immigration thing then happy days lie ahead but unless you fix the perception that your party isn’t interested in – or is in fact suspicious of – ethnic minority voters then you don’t have a chance at all. Anything – anything at all – that hints they’re a problem or unwelcome or in some sense lesser citizens will prove poisonous.

Policy matters, of course, but so does the language and tone you use. Perceptions come first. George W Bush had a better understanding of this than some of his GOP colleagues and he did do better amongst Hispanic voters than have other GOP candidates.

But Tories looking for lessons from America should consider what came after Bush just as much as they ponder his example. An example that, if exaggerated, remains useful. BME voters are no more monolithic than Hispanic voters in the US (there being a considerable difference, say, between Mexican-Americans in Arizona and Cuban-Americans in Florida) but one single truth remains apparent: BME voters don’t think the Tory party is for people like them and they have not been persuaded that the Conservatives are on their side.

Unless that changes, voting patterns will remain broadly the same and the Tory share of the BME vote will continue to languish far below their share of the overall national vote. And that will continue to cost them otherwise winnable seats for another generation.


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Show comments
  • Picquet

    Until there is a clear acceptance by political parties that the principles upon which those parties supposedly stand are those which should guide the voter’s pen, and that those principles can not, in a Blair-like swerve, be morphed to fit the party leadership’s ambitiions, then a supposedly mature democracy cannot view itself as such. I would have voted for the Conservatives at every turn until the subversion of our democracy took place; now I’m afraid I can only look to UKIP to provide a realistic Opposition, and hope that it is strong enough to crush every lunatic move by whichever grisly gang of pointless pinheads occupies the Government benches.
    Our Government is for us, not the parasites of the world. Those immigrants and refugees who contribute without pain to our society are hugely welcome, and always will be. Sadly they seem to be a minority of minorities.

  • Hippograd

    Comrade Massie is on the money again! Let’s lament the grim failure of the Tories to pander more vigorously to our enrichers than Labour do. And let’s ask over and over again: Why-oh-why do Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Somalis fail to see how well their vibrant values would fit in the Tory party? After all, the Tories believe in bleeding the white middle class dry for the benefit of more deserving groups, such as the financial elite. And Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Somalis are more than happy to relieve the white middle class of its undeserved cash, in order to fund their heartwarming birth-rates and prevent a population crash. So why can’t the Tories offer them even more than Labour?

    George W Bush had a better understanding of this than some of his GOP
    colleagues and he did do better amongst Hispanic voters than have other
    GOP candidates.

    Very true. He did do better. He lost by a less-huge margin among Hispanics than Romney. So the more Hispanics, the more important it is for the Republicans to lose by a less-huge margin.

  • Bill_der_Berg

    George W Bush? Isn’t he the person who called upon the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then abandoned them to their fate.

    People like that are best avoided.

    • tjamesjones

      Um, I mean, I know the comments section is a pretty wild place, but I’ve just taken a copy of this as my personal favourite.

      Just for the record, George W Bush actually invaded Iraq back in 2003, and, as you seem to have missed it, got rid of Saddam Hussein. This war got quite a lot of attention in the Western media, not all of it positive I might add.
      There was of course another George Bush, Dubya’s father, who did encourage a Kurdish uprising, which he didn’t follow up on.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Actually, George H.W. Bush encouraged the Shiite marsh arabs to engage in an uprising, in the South of Iraq, not the Kurds.

        The Kurds were/are located in the North, and had previously developed a semi-autonomous region, which both Bushes encouraged.

        So you’re both wrong, fyi. I won’t bother taking a copy of anything, but it’s always amusing when a sanctimonious muppet tries to play pedant.

        • tjamesjones

          Actually, what fun, I’ve just taken a copy of this too. What’s the viceroy been drinking!? You’re half right and half wrong: you’re right that it’s amusing when a sanctimonious muppet tries to play pedant. But on the history: George HW Bush encouraged ‘the Iraqi’ people, to take matters into their own hands, and in response the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds then “engaged in uprising”, and found themselves at the mercy of Saddam.

          See, e.g.:

          • the viceroy’s gin

            It’s even more amusing when the sanctimonious muppet gets clipped and then springs back trying to cover up for his misplaced sanctimony.

            No, lad, the Kurdish autonomous region was in play long before Gulf War even, as mentioned. That’s why Sadaam gas-bombed Halabja years before, and murdered all those villagers. He had no control of it. They had already fought for a Kurdistan.

            The Kurds were not “at the mercy” of Sadaam in 1991, lad. They were well armed and autonomous. It was the Marsh arabs that were slaughtered, a fact that as your original post showed, you were completely ignorant of, no matter your sanctimonious muppetry.

            Your BBC links are worthless, lad. Look up Halabja.

      • Bill_der_Berg

        Oh dear, I had a touch of the Ronald Reagans. It’s happening more often these days.

        Now let me see. The 2003 war on Iraq was the war that had nothing to do with oil, but freed the world from the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Am I right?

        • tjamesjones

          that’s the one

        • Ace

          Almost. The WMDs were moved to Syria or buried in the desert like those MIGs and the oil contracts have gone to the Chinese.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    “BME voters don’t think the Tory party is for people like them and they
    have not been persuaded that the Conservatives are on their side.”

    Delete BME, substitute Most. Or English. Or anybody who has worked out that the political class despises them. And Massie is one of the political class.

  • Alison

    Ah I see you have brown skin therefore you must believe in the re-nationalisation of the railways? So much logical thinking. Conservatives know that individuals vote with their minds.

    • andagain

      Its perfectly logical to vote against the people who clearly don’t like you.

      And its perfectly logical for people with brown skin to conclude that Conservatives don’t like them.

      Therefore, it is perfectly logical for people with brown skin to vote against the Conservatives.

      And so they always do.

      • Alison

        It is not perfectly logical for people to feel that other people don’t like them because of the colour of their skin. In your attempt to say the opposite you are actually saying that racism is perfectly logical. It is perfectly logical to assume that people do not judge you either positively or negatively in relation to the colour of your skin. That does not mean that the experience one has of other people does not provide evidence of other people’s illogicality. Even if every person belonging to an ethnic minority actually votes Labour it is not logical to assume that he does so because of the colour of his skin. Or because he belongs to a group of people with skin of that particular shade, just as it would not be logical to make that assumption about a white persons voting habits. Every individual makes an individual decision about how to vote. They make that decision with their mind. It is racist to assume otherwise. It is racist to presume a political idea will appeal to people because of their skin colour.

        • andagain

          It is perfectly logical to believe that SOME people are racist, and perfectly plausible (and, to judge from the Spectators comment threads, correct) to believe that Conservatives are more likely to dislike or disapprove of members of various ethnic minorities, than Labour or the Lib Dems.

          So it is not very surprising that members of those groups are less likely to vote Conservative than whites.

          • Alison

            Yes, but political parties who believe in freedom of the individual, as the Conservative party used to in Mrs Thatcher’s time, cannot campaign on the basis that people are not individuals but groups of people, of colour, religion, sexuality, gender etc. Conservatives have to state their policies and principles and talk about their economic successes and know that individual voters will make up their minds in their own ways. The left may chase the black vote, the gay vote, the woman’s vote etc. because they are patronising and believe in group think. They may win as a result, but Conservatives must not dumb down and patronise people in the same way.

            • andagain

              As a matter of observation, the Conservative Party can target groups of people in an attempt to win their vote, so I don’t see why it is impossible to target black or Asian voters or whatever. Note that George W Bush, for example, specifically went after Hispanic voters.

              And I might point out that individual Conservative are quite capable of making generalisations about all sorts of groups of people – the unemployed, immigrants, blacks and so on. They just can’t seem to speak well of them very often.

              • Alison

                Why would anyone wish to emulate George W Bush? My point is that it is moronic to think of human beings as groups of people, it is not a Conservative way to think, even if it wins votes. We are individuals, each one of us is unique. Lumping people together in groups and making generalisations about them is what socialists do. No two middle class, wealthy homosexuals are the same, no two poor, heteroexuals are the same no two whites,no two Asians, blacks etc. We must not be as patronising as the left, we must not allow our society to divide itself up in this way. It is natural for every individual to think of groups of ‘others’ privately and to speak of them in that shorthand way, possibly dismissively according to the circumstances of conversation, but politicians planning a campaign cannot do that. It is always disastrous, because it is always wrong and patronising.

                • andagain

                  Why would anyone wish to emulate George W Bush?

                  Because he got elected, which is certainly a feat most politicians should wish to emulate. And because he got a lot of people who were members of an ethnic minority to vote for him, which is something few other Conservatives seem to be able to manage.

                • Alison

                  OK, good point if you have no principles, which politicians don’t. But you know what the reaction of the left would be if Conservatives tried to appeal to any specific group they have in their sights; it would be a thousand times worse than the beer and bingo tax relief fiasco. Let’s not go there, let’s be better than the patronising left.

                • andagain

                  I notice that Conservatives are quite happy to appeal to some groups, such as the elderly or the Middle Class. It is just Blacks they cannot try to appeal to. Or Asians. Or Scots. Or northerners. Or the poor.

                  It seems like the real principle is that Conservatives should not try to appeal to groups of people who do not favour them already…

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Nope, couldn’t get past even the title again, lad.

    An authoritarian socialist loon, lecturing on the wonders of Bushism? Seriously?

    Now it’s certain you’re trolling this site, laddie.

  • ADW

    “That you are relaxed, evenintensely relaxed, about diversity”

    Sorry, I’m not relaxed about forced marriages, FGM, Sharia law, a lack of separation of church and state, the sort of sexism that about 99% of other cultures practice, baksheesh in commercial deals, ‘dishonour killings’, black gang culture, people who want to commit murder over a book, or cartoon, those seeking exemption from the criminal law because of their religious beliefs, and so on.

    Nor am I relaxed about what immigration does to the poor – increased pressure on housing, jobs and social services, increased crime, much more difficulty in policing different cultures etc. If on the other hand you can afford private schools and healthcare, own rental properties and can afford nannies, tradesmen and meals out, I can see why you would appreciate mass immigration. But it is the traditional white working class who miss out.

    If you’re ok with all those things, good luck to you, but remind us again why you live in an all-white area …?

  • Raw England

    97% of blacks voted for Obama. Ethnic minorities are monolithic in that sense. When they can, they ALWAYS vote for a fellow immigrant, as do Muslims.

    Its a bit sick how you’re basically saying: “Let mass immigration totally destroy us, otherwise the immigrant population will hate us”.

    You’re unintentionally admitting that all blacks and Muslims want limitless mass immigration. Which is true, of course. They want to see less Whites. They want Whites to be the minority, and we will be soon.

    80% of the native population wants immigration to stop, immediately. And a similar percentage despises what immigration has done.

    You’re very much on the wrong side of the rising tide, Alex. You will fail.

    • SgtVimes

      “They want to see less Whites”? Pay for me to have two weeks in the Med and I’ll come back less white. Or do you mean fewer whites?
      Don’t have the inclination to deal with the rest of the content in your latest rant.

    • colestar

      “97% of blacks (and I suspect Hispanics) voted for Obama. Ethnic minorities are monolithic politically. When they can, they ALWAYS vote for a fellow immigrant, as do Muslims.”

      Absolute nonsense. Do you truly believe that 97% of blacks would have voted for, say Herman Cain, if he ran for president against a white Democrat? This is simply an assertion you wish to believe.

      “You’re unintentionally admitting that all blacks and Muslims want limitless mass immigration. Which is true, of course.”

      Again, more nonsense you have chosen to believe because it fits your conspiratorial world view. On the contrary, concern about mass immigration is a concern for many ethnic minorities as much as it is for the native population. I’ve spoken to numerous ethnic minorities who express concern about large-scale immigration, even often from their own nations of origin!

      • the viceroy’s gin

        If Cain had run against a white D in 2008, yes, I’d guess that well over 80% and probably over 90% of blacks would have voted for him. No matter that the rest of the vote would likely have split somewhat evenly along racial lines. The guy’s point stands. Blacks vote as a bloc. The data doesn’t lie.

    • Col. Leopold Swindle

      I’m not sure if I follow your analogy; American blacks are not immigrants.

  • Smithersjones2013

    That the Tories are scrabbling around paying lip service and pandering
    to minority groups in the hope that it will deliver additional votes
    only demonstrates further how broken and dysfunctional they are and how
    liittle they have to say to the Home Nation majorities.

    Given how desperately the Tories have previously attempted to ingratiate themselves with Scots to no avail does anyone in their right mind seriously believe they can win over the minorities who have traditionally spurned them?

  • Trapnel

    “It had become usual to give Napoleon the Credit for every Successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen remark to another, “Under the guidance of our leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days” or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim, “thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!”…”

    The eggs are bad, the water is off and mass immigration is foul.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    You’d think Massie would take the opportunity afforded by the number of his recent posts to explain just why any party, not just the tories, should propose any policy or campaign to appeal to people differentially on racial grounds.

    Or he could remind us of when we were asked about mass immigration.

    Not to address the opposing argument but to continue down the path of straw men and ad homs is just what I’d expect of any dishonest mass debater. Did I spell that right? It passed spellcheck.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      The whiny muppet is censoring posts now, too.

    • dmitri the impostor

      2nd attempt:

      p1sseur de copie (locution): Ecrivain très productif dont la priorité n’est pas la qualité, mais la quantité [Péjoratif].

      (First attempt – failed, possibly on the grounds of an earlier post which described Massie’s relationship to the sound his own voice as the greatest love story since Tristan and Isolde)

  • anyfool

    The biggest group of immigrants that will hardly ever vote Tory are the Muslim, while we have or pretend we can afford universal benefits they will with a few notable exceptions vote Labour, theirs is a socialist type ideology in that all must conform to the message, all consider non believers to be sub human and anything that removes money, goods and rights from them is to be taken advantage of.

    No party can retain their loyalty and any who thinks so is deluded, so why bother with this section of immigrants.

    The Tory party should fall back on another tactic, divide the ethnics with the same lies/promises Labour use, short term yes, but in the long term what will be left worth fighting for, a swirling maelstrom of ethnic hatreds, is not something worth a light

  • Denis_Cooper

    Interesting developments during this election campaign.

    A campaign during which Daniel Hannan obstinately insists on urging people to vote Tory and not vote for UKIP, even though his oft-stated conviction that we must
    leave the EU is utterly contrary to the fixed and unshakeable position of his
    own party leader, and it’s obvious to many that he’d do much better to break
    away from the Tories and declare for UKIP like his erstwhile colleague Roger

    UKIP has been beating up all the old parties, including the Tory party, over
    their support for mass immigration into this country against the wishes of its

    The cross-party attempt to depict UKIP as “racist” has partially succeeded in
    doing that, but that hasn’t yet deterred many people from supporting UKIP.

    That in itself should tell Daniel Hannan and his party something important, but it
    seems to have passed them by and now there is a new orchestrated plan to say
    that UKIP may not be “racist” about immigration but it is still “wrong”, because
    in fact mass immigration is a wonderful thing and it is hugely beneficial even
    if the citizens of this country very clearly don’t want it.

    So much for all his pretensions about upholding “democracy”; millions of people imported to become new citizens without the consent of the existing body of citizens being sought or even wanted, in fact their views are deliberately ignored by those leading all three of the old pro-EU pro-immigration parties, including as should now have become obvious to all the Tory party.

  • London Calling

    The Tory Toff stereotyping is still viewed by Ethnic Minorities and are more likely to vote Labour if the truth be known. Being working class and yes there are still class barriers to be broken. The Ethnic Minorities would ask what have the Tories ever done for us, even though the economy is looking bright wages haven’t risen in years
    and many still struggle. The Tories can only reach out to these people through supporting community projects, but with little funding there’s much work to be done . Having a good education shouldn’t be for just the privileged …………………:)

  • Colonel Mustard

    “This isn’t a merely a problem for the Tories, it is a crisis.”

    Oh really? Save that kind of hyperbole for the “cost of living crisis”. All you are doing is a contrived talking down of the Tory prospects like Labour did over the issue of Tory women on the front bench. An artful piece of trickery.

    BME are 14.6% of the population, even including the mixed category, so the proportion of voters likely to be attracted to any Tory supplication would be insignificant. Long term the prospects of an effectively single party state under European rule loom large so there is not much point in the Tories shifting the deck chairs of their “appeal” as their ship goes down.

  • Kaine

    “intensely relaxed”

    Did you just quote Peter Mandelson admiringly? In the Spectator?

    Oh Mr Massie, you really do know how to bait a line!

  • jazz606

    The real Tory problem is that they have alienated the conservative vote.

    • Kaine

      Unless they start dabbling in necromancy you aren’t going to get 1992 again.

      • jazz606

        In 1992 turnout was about 78% in 2010 it was less than 65%.

    • John Dalton

      Massie is a wind-up merchant delighting in what he no doubt considers to be “sticking it” to the small-c conservative readers of this blog whom he clearly despises.

      His articles all gleefully say the same thing: the country has been socially engineered against your will, it’s now too late for you to do anything about it so you’ll just have to shut up and take it.

      He’s right only about the first part of that statement.

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