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Friday, June 19, 2015

Hispanics Are Just as Libertarian as Other Americans

Let's forget this racial hostility sooner rather than later

Opponents of immigration often try to argue that a libertarian immigration policy would be self-defeating because immigrants will ultimately undermine our freedoms.

No group receives more hostility on this point than Hispanics, as seen in the title of Ann Coulter’s new book, Adios America. Yet polls show Hispanics are as libertarian as other Americans, sometimes even more so.

Their argument is a bit odd. Opponents of immigration argue that libertarians should join them because immigrants will end up hurting the libertarian cause. For example, the National Review’s John Derbyshire concludes, “If libertarianism implies mass Third World immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is simply not attractive … to illiterate peasants from mercantilist Latin American states.”

Here’s the problem. Pew Research Center finds that Hispanics are just as likely as whites to identify themselves as libertarian, 11 percent to 12 percent. Given this level of identification, we would expect that libertarians would agree at least as often with Hispanics as with any other racial group.

Take free trade. Perhaps no economic issue is more basic than free exchange of goods across borders. Not only do Hispanics stand with libertarians, they are by far the most supportive of free trade among racial groups. According to a Pew poll last month, Hispanics support free-trade agreements 71 to 23 percent.

Whites and blacks are much less supportive of trade, favoring freer trade by only 55 to 35 percent and 53 to 37 percent, respectively. In other words, the approval spread for Hispanics on trade is more than double that for whites or blacks. Hispanics were also the only racial group that tended to consider trade a benefit to their “personal finances.”

On foreign policy — not that it would necessarily please Ms. Coulter or Mr. Derbyshire — Hispanics are also more libertarian than most. A second Pew poll last month found Hispanics oppose “drone strikes against extremists” by the widest margin, 66 to 28 percent. Blacks opposed the strikes 46 to 41 percent. Whites actually favored them 54 to 39 percent.

Last October a majority of Hispanics opposed invading Iraq and Syria. This should come as little surprise given that Hispanics also had the staunchest opposition to the war in Iraq under President George W. Bush. They opposed the war 66 to 19 percent in 2006, according to Pew.

Hispanics also align with libertarian views on a wide range of individual liberty issues. Recent Pew polls show that they oppose the draft (58%), support gay marriage (52%), accept gays and lesbians (59%), back marijuana legalization (49%), oppose mandatory minimums (52%), favor treatment over prosecution for drug users (61%), and reject NSA spying (52%).

Despite broad support among Hispanics for a government with “more services,” Pew finds that Hispanics were evenly divided over big-government health care in practice. In 2014, 47 percent supported Obamacare while an equal amount opposed it.

Where government services are provided, Hispanics favor choice and competition. Polls from the American Federation for Children (AFC) and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that a larger majority of Hispanics than of whites favored school choice, charter schools, and school vouchers.

Naturally, there’s one issue on which Hispanics are libertarians’ strongest allies: immigration. An astounding 86 percent want unauthorized immigrants to be allowed to stay in the country; 71 percent support foreign temporary workers; and 79 percent, compared to only 43 percent of whites, agree that immigrants strengthen the country.

Of course, it goes without saying that most Hispanics are not libertarian in general — indeed, no demographic group is. They are more likely to favor gun control and strongly support jacking up the minimum wage — but then, so does everyone else (except economists). And showing that they don’t neatly fit in anyone’s political box, they are the only racial group to favor a prohibition on most abortions.

But the point is that Hispanics are not anti-libertarian. Libertarians should feel comfortable knowing that being intellectually consistent on immigration will not be “self-destroying” of the broader limited government agenda. Libertarians should see Hispanic voters just as they see other demographic groups: mostly right on some issues, mostly wrong on others, but not as some unique threat to the Constitution or free markets.

Ann Coulter is raising an alarm (and blowing a dog whistle) that’s been raised every time a new ethnic group comes to America. But each time, immigrants assimilate and add to American culture and eventually the old hostility is forgotten.

Let’s forget this latest hostility sooner rather than later.

  • David J. Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.