America / Politics / U.S. Domestic Policy

Hispanics have spoken. How will the GOP respond?

On Monday, under the direction of Latin Insights, Fox News Latino conducted a poll that showed that President Barack Obama has begun to gain more support among Hispanic voters. The poll demonstrated that Obama was favored six-to-one over any of the GOP presidential hopefuls. As the election nears, the GOP and its candidates should be making a more concerted effort to win this crucial voter demographic—one that could potentially decide the outcome in key swing and battleground states in November.

According to the polls findings, 73% of those surveyed approved of Obama’s performance in office, with a majority also indicating they have a positive view of how his actions regarding healthcare (66%) and the economy (58%). Furthermore, the poll indicated that none of the remaining GOP candidates would win more than 14% of the Hispanic vote in a head-to-head matchup with Obama. These results come in spite of Hispanic dissatisfaction with Obama’s handling of immigration, which includes a record number of deportations and failure to produce the comprehensive immigration reform he promised.

I have previously commented that a drawn-out GOP primary could end up being a net-positive for the party and its eventually nominee. However, I never anticipated the race would drag out this long. One of the byproducts of the elongated primary season and the lack of a clear-cut nominee has been a “race to the right” by the candidates (with the possible exception being Ron Paul) to consolidate support from the conservative base. In doing so, each of the candidates has been guilty of harsh rhetoric on immigration.

Fox News Latino quotes Alexandra Franceschi, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee as saying, “From higher unemployment to record debt to skyrocketing gas prices, Latinos are worse off than they were four years ago because of Obama’s record of broken promises and failed policies.” Franceschi makes valid points, but that makes Monday’s poll all the more troubling for the GOP. Immigration was rated as the fourth most important issue among likely Hispanic voters, trailing jobs and the economy, education, and health care, but up to this point the GOP hopefuls have been unable to capitalize on such issues.

The late February debate in Arizona was the perfect stage for the Republican candidates to extend an olive branch to Hispanic voters over the topic of immigration. Instead, they, in my opinion, squandered a great opportunity. Even though immigration was rated as the fourth most important issue among Hispanics, the majority of those polled showed strong preferences: 90% support the DREAM Act, 85% support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and 82% believe that undocumented workers help to grow the US economy. These numbers and the GOP candidates’ past statements, including those made during the Arizona debate, are pretty clear indicators of why Obama’s lead in head-to-head matchups has grown among Hispanic voters.

All of the candidates have indicated that they favor stricter immigration policy. During the debate, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum voiced support for (lightning rod) Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Romney even said that he viewed Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 as a model for immigration policy. SB 1070 has seen strong opposition from Hispanics as have similar bills proposed in other states. At the Arizona debate, Newt Gingrich proposed building a “double fence” along the United States’ southwestern border with Mexico.

These positions on immigration are hurting the GOP and its candidates with Hispanic voters. Even with considerable Hispanic dissatisfaction with Obama’s approach to immigration, 41% of those polled disapproved of Obama’s handling of immigration issues, and yet they find him a more favorable option when compared to the GOP hopefuls.

The gap between the GOP candidates and potential Hispanic supporters seems to be widening as the general election nears and the GOP primary drags on. The GOP and the eventual nominee will probably take a more moderate stance on immigration and other issues important to Hispanic voters once the nominee is chosen, but at this rate it might be too little too late. It is important to note that some political analysts have speculated that the GOP nominee will have to garner 40% of the Hispanic vote in November to unseat President Obama.

The Fox News Latino poll did offer the GOP some hope, however. Almost one-third of Hispanic voters polled said that if there were a Hispanic on the GOP presidential ticket they would consider voting Republican. Two names that have been floated by pundits and analysts are Florida junior Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. According to the poll, one-fifth of likely Hispanic voters would be more willing to support a Republican ticket if Martinez was selected as the GOP nominee’s running mate. Marco Rubio had a larger impact, with one-quarter of Hispanics indicating they would be more willing to vote for a Republican if he was on the ticket. It is important to note that Rubio also enjoys strong Hispanic support in his home state, the battleground state of Florida. However, there is always the possibility that the selection of a Hispanic running mate by the GOP nominee would be viewed as a publicity stunt. For those who have such a concern, I would point out that Rubio has recently come out in favor of more moderate discussion of immigration and has asked the GOP candidates to be more sensitive to the concerns of Hispanic voters.

The results of the Fox News Latino poll should be worrisome to the GOP and its candidates. But, all is not lost. There are still eight months until the general election, but they must use the time to be proactive. A good start might be to revise the harsh rhetoric on immigration. Hispanics have also indicated they would be more willing to listen if there were a Hispanic selected as the GOP vice presidential nominee. I believe that if the GOP can temper their rhetoric, then Hispanic voters will be more likely to listen to Republican views on how to create jobs and improve the economy. This is the area in which the GOP matches up best with Obama, and if the GOP and its candidates can find a way to steer the discussion in this direction it will help them immensely with Hispanic voters, who, after all, are first and foremost Americans concerned about the economy, jobs, and access to quality education and healthcare.

– Max Rava

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