Opinion: The right policies and tone can help GOP attract Latinos in 2012Dan Judy and Luke Frans | Univision News | December 15, 2011
Two-thirds of Latino voters supported President Obama in 2008. Yet based on recent public polling, including a Resurgent Republic survey in Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico, Obama’s support among Latinos has weakened.
That opens the door for the eventual Republican presidential nominee to gain significantly greater Latino support in 2012, which is critical as every month 50,000 more Latinos become eligible to vote.
A majority of Latinos still hold a favorable image of Obama, but the White House finds itself increasingly on the defensive regarding its record. Nationally, only 48 percent of Latinos currently support him against a generic Republican challenger, and just 47 percent say he deserves reelection as president, according to Resurgent Republic’s September polls. In the three critical swing states of Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico (which account for 43 electoral votes):
- Latino voters do not believe Obama has delivered on his campaign promises – 56 percent say he has not delivered to 27 percent has delivered in Florida (including 58 to 25 percent among Independents), 50 to 35 percent in Colorado (including 61 to 25 percent among Independents), and 46 to 37 percent in New Mexico (56 to 22 percent among Independents).
- Majorities say that Mr. Obama has turned out to be a weaker leader than they expected – 57 percent in Florida (60 percent among Independents), 54 percent in Colorado (67 percent among Independents), and 54 percent in New Mexico (63 percent among Independents).
Facing criticism from Latino voters for not delivering on his campaign promises, Obama recently told a mostly Latino audience that he would “push Republicans” to pass immigration reform.
The left’s playbook is to politicize this issue and entice hard-line conservatives to make fringe statements that alienate Latino voters and increase the unfavorable image of Republicans. This strategy has been successful for Democrats in the past, and could continue to be so if conservatives disregard the tone of the debate.
Consider some of the most spirited discussions during the Republican presidential debates have centered on immigration reform. Politically charged sound bytes like “anchor babies,” or jokes about electrifying a border fence become fodder for a media frenzy, and obscure any thoughtful debate. More importantly, politically speaking, many Latino voters feel alienated by such a narrative.
In the eyes of Latino voters, Republicans are on the wrong side of immigration reform. Latino voters trust Democrats more than Republicans on the issue by 43 to 32 percent in Florida, by 56 to 23 percent in Colorado, and by 51 to 25 percent in New Mexico. Moreover, Latino voters are far more likely to blame Republicans than Democrats for the federal government’s failure to pass immigration reform.
To be clear, the federal government has failed in its responsibility to secure the border, and serious reforms are long overdue. And while the default Republican position on immigration often appears to be solely securing the border, only about one-fifth of Latino voters in these states agree with that strategy. About one-fourth prefer reform that pairs border security with a temporary-worker program, and majorities prefer comprehensive reform that includes border security, a temporary-worker program, and earned legalization for undocumented immigrants who are already here.
Fortunately for Republicans, immigration reform is not the only issue of importance to Latino voters, and it is possible for Republicans to increase their support among Latinos in 2012 without yet having a unified immigration policy. In this light, Republicans should:
- Strike a balanced tone when talking about immigration reform by welcoming legal immigration. It is right to defend the rule of law and oppose illegal immigration, but too often the rhetoric used to do so can be perceived by Latino voters as opposed to legal immigration as well. A harsh, anti-immigrant tone alienates Latino voters, and harms all Republicans.
- Speak to their top priority: the economy and job creation. The Latino population has been disproportionately affected by the recession, especially younger Latinos and small businesses, according to recent Census data. The unemployment rate among Latinos is over 11 percent, higher than the national average.
- Talk about why it’s important to stop spending money we don’t have and rein in the nation’s out-of-control debt. Many Latino voters are one or two generations removed from countries riled by economic instability, skyrocketing inflation, and a weak currency. They have a palpable understanding of how these variables limit freedom and opportunity for themselves and future generations.
- Highlight the need to implement education reforms, not invest more money. Latino voters support reforms like more school choice, teacher training and accountability, and parental involvement more than they support Republican candidates at the ballot box.
There are signs that Republicans are headed in the right direction, even if there is still a long way to go. In the 2010 congressional elections, Latinos favored Democrats 60 to 38 percent. While still a significant deficit, it was a 17-point net improvement from the previous midterm contest and 7 points higher than the 2008 presidential race.
Despite Obama’s struggles, Republican gains among Latinos will not come easily. With the right proposals and tone, Republicans can earn the trust of these voters and improve their support in 2012.
Dan Judy is Vice President of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, a Republican polling firm, and Luke Frans is Executive Director of Resurgent Republic, a conservative non-profit group.