This past election showed the GOP that Hispanics in the United States can be ignored no more if the party intends to win in successive presidential elections. Obama’s victory among Hispanics capturing 71% of the vote was outstanding when compared to the 27% share of the Hispanic vote given to Romney. However, the fact that Hispanics went for the democratic candidate was not surprising for anybody since that has always been the pattern in our community. What surprised the party is that a swing state with a Hispanic population that has historically favored Republicans rejected the Republican candidate drastically by switching votes to the Democratic Party. This past week we heard the news that Jeb Bush and other Republicans are going down to Miami and other parts of Florida with the goal of winning Hispanics back. But, why have Florida Hispanics changed their votes since 2008 and what does the GOP needs to do to regain strength in Florida?
“In 2006 more Hispanics were registered as Republicans (37%) than as Democrats (33%) in Florida.” This quote is from the Pew Hispanic Center report on the 2012 presidential election. It is known by now that demographic patterns have been changing since the arrival in 2006 of Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Hondurans and Peruvians into the state. These new immigrants have broken the monolithic Cuban monopoly over the Hispanic vote and have diversified the community in a way not seen ever before. However, the GOP can still win Florida back if it understands that all Hispanics are not the same and that in order to win their vote the party needs to get to know the issues affecting each community individually.
The GOP has an advantage with Florida Hispanics when it comes to immigration, a hot debated topic that concerns most, but not all Hispanics in the United States. By far the majority of Hispanics eligible to vote in Florida are Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and none of these two groups are preoccupied with immigration the way other groups are due to their permanent legal status in the States. This narrows down the decisive issues for Florida Hispanics to the economy, jobs and education. The fact that 63% of Hispanics in the United States are now U.S born affects tremendously the voting results in this population.
The GOP has a lot of potential in Miami, Tampa and even Orlando. The party needs to drop the rhetoric built on stereotypes and slight promises with our community and engage more with Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Cubans in order to know what worries them and what the party can do for them. The one thing to remember is that Hispanics come from different places and what drives Puerto Ricans to the polls is totally different from what drives Colombians. I have always believed that in politics is all about the talking and the language used to convince others of your position. A party that engages in cheap talks and shows up once every four years looking for support is not going anywhere with Hispanics. Remember, if the GOP wants to recapture Florida the party does not have to change the message but the language in which that message has been conveyed.