Latino Voters: News for GOP Candidates

March 01, 2011

A recent poll of California Latino voters conducted by Moore Information and assisted by GOP strategist Marty Wilson contains valuable insights for GOP candidates across the country. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic segment of the population and represented 9% of the national electorate in the 2010 elections and 16% of the total U.S. population, indicating significant potential for growth in Latino voting numbers. In California, Latinos represented 22% of the voters in the 2010 elections and 37% of the state’s total population. When George Bush won California in 1988, Latinos represented only 7% of the California electorate. Increasing Latino participation in the political process will have a significant impact on elections in 2012 and beyond in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and a number of other states. Republicans (and Democrats) who ignore the rapid growth among Latinos in the electorate do so at their own peril.

Today, GOP candidates take a back seat to Democrats when it comes to capturing Latino voters. Barack Obama beat John McCain 67% to 31% among Latino voters in the 2008 presidential election and in the 2010 elections, Latinos voted for Democrats over GOP candidates in Congressional races by a 60-38% margin. According to 2010 exit polls, the only GOP candidate for U.S. Senate or Governor who won the majority of the Latino vote was Marco Rubio in Florida’s U.S. Senate race. (Newly elected Florida Governor Rick Scott just missed a majority, with 50% of the Latino vote.)

Our survey of Latino voters confirmed some of the challenges facing GOP candidates.

  • California’s Latino voters are widely negative about the Republican Party (26% have a favorable, 47% have an unfavorable opinion) and are widely positive about the Democratic Party (62% favorable, 22% unfavorable).
  • Approximately one-in-three California Latino voters say they will never vote for a Republican, while another third want Republicans to “move toward the center and nominate candidates who are less Conservative.”
  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be trusted on the immigration issue (57-21%).

The key to GOP candidates winning Latino votes is to talk to these voters about what they consider to be the most important issues (i.e. jobs), rather than to be known for issues they consider to be secondary (i.e. immigration). The number one issue concern for Latino voters in California today is jobs and the economy (for 40%), followed by education (16%), health care (16%), taxes and government spending (14%) and immigration (4%). Further, 65% of Latino voters said they would consider voting for a GOP candidate they agreed with on improving the economy and jobs, even if they disagreed with that GOP candidate on immigration policy. But it doesn’t stop there – 69% of California Latino voters would consider voting for a GOP candidate they agreed with on ensuring all children had a chance for a first rate education, even if they disagreed with the candidate on immigration policy.

The following table illustrates a series of issues on which the majority of Latinos are willing to consider voting for Republicans; including protecting America from terrorists, taxes and government spending and fighting air and water pollution.

California Latino Voters are Willing to Consider

GOP Candidates’ Views on Several Issues

“If you disagreed with a Republican candidate on immigration policy but, agreed with the candidate on ___________, would you consider voting for that Republican candidate, or not?”

The education issue could be especially helpful to GOP candidates. From previous surveys, we know that many in the Latino community believe a good education is the key to a successful life. Data from nationwide surveys show that for Latinos, as well as other voters, good teaching is the key to a good education, so programs that train and enhance the quality of teaching are critical. Good teachers can help motivate kids to stay in school and to work hard to achieve their goals. Latinos place higher priority on ensuring qualified teachers are present in classrooms than on testing, merit pay, charter schools, school choice and other proposals designed to improve local schools.

There are other opportunities for Republicans; California Latinos are more philosophically Conservative than Democrats or Decline to State voters (DTS voters are those not affiliated with either major party). On the abortion issue, Latinos are more pro-life than the electorate as a whole and are also more likely to attend church on a regular basis. However, one of the problems some Republicans might have in relating to Conservative Latinos is that for many Latinos, being Conservative is more often a way of life rather than a political agenda.

Immigration is the issue that most often appears to separate Latinos from Republicans. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Tone and priorities can make a difference. When it comes to immigration policy, even for Latino voters, securing the border and stopping illegal immigration are higher priorities than providing a pathway for illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Fully 73% of Latino voters in our poll were positive about a candidate who said “secure the border first, stop illegal immigration and then find a way to address the status of people already here illegally.”

The best way to turn off Latino voters is to be known more for your support for stronger immigration laws, opposition to a pathway and support for the Arizona immigration law than to be known for your support of ensuring every child has a chance at a first rate education, improving the economy and increasing jobs and protecting America from terrorists.

A pathway to citizenship for those who have illegally entered the country is the most important element of immigration reform for California Latinos, 67% support it, including 51% of Latino Republicans. The Arizona immigration law is favored by only 25% and opposed by 71%.

In short, GOP candidates are more likely to win Latino votes by talking about and acting upon the issues most likely to concern Latino voters. This is going to take some time and effort. Republicans are not going win Latino votes overnight and they will have to put some effort into presenting their views on issues relevant to Latinos. But in the end, more focus on issues that impact Latinos’ lives on a daily basis and less bombast on immigration will go a long way toward helping the GOP in its efforts to win over this growing segment of the electorate.

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