Resurgent Republic and the Hispanic Leadership Network jointly surveyed Hispanics who voted in the 2012 Presidential election in four critical states: Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. The results make clear the size of the hole Republicans have dug among Hispanic voters over the past eight years. At a time of growing Hispanic influence in the electorate, Mitt Romney received the lowest percentage of the Hispanic vote of any Republican presidential nominee in a two-candidate election since Watergate.
Some argue that Hispanics have been voting Democratic for years, that there is little Republicans can do to change the trend, and that trying to do so will split the Republican base. That position is belied by the facts, most recently in 2004 when President George W. Bush achieved 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, the highest in history for a Republican presidential candidate, while simultaneously generating the second largest turnout of the Republican base voters in the history of exit polling.
It is also the route to political irrelevance in national elections. Mitt Romney won a landslide among white voters, defeating Barack Obama by 59 to 39 percent. In the process he won every large segment of white voters, often by double-digit margins: white men, white women, white Catholics, white Protestants, white old people, white young people.
Yet that was not enough to craft a national majority. Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters. For the fifth time in the past six presidential elections, Republicans lost the popular vote. Trying to win a national election by gaining a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate is a losing political proposition.
To be competitive nationally in the future, Republicans must do better among non-white Americans, especially Hispanics and Asians. If Republicans achieve 40 percent or more of Hispanics nationally, they can elect conservative Republicans to national office. Settling for a quarter or less of the Hispanic vote nationally will relegate Republicans to a regional party with few national prospects.
These four surveys demonstrate the potential for conservative candidates in four very different Hispanic electorates, and the short and long-term steps that can improve Republicans’ standing in the Hispanic community. The project surveyed 400 registered Hispanic voters in each of the states who voted in the 2012 presidential election. Each respondent was interviewed by a bilingual interviewer and was offered the option to complete the survey in English or Spanish. Since these are surveys of Hispanic American citizens who vote in elections, Hispanics in these surveys are older, have reached a higher level of education, more likely to speak English, and more likely to be born in America than those in surveys of all Hispanic residents.
We will mine these surveys for insights for some time, with results posted at resurgentrepublic.com and hispanicleadershipnetwork.org. But following are some key highlights.
In 2012 white voters made up 72 percent of the national electorate and non-white voters constituted 28 percent, the highest in history. In 2012 Hispanics constituted 10 percent of the national electorate, up from 9 percent in 2008. That is a sign of things to come. Every month in America 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 years old and are eligible to vote, a trend that will continue for the next 20 years: http://www.hispanicvoters2012.com.
In some critical swing states the percentage of Hispanics is higher. In three of these four swing states the Hispanic percentage grew between 2008 and 2012, from 14 to 17 percent in Florida, from 13 to 14 percent in Colorado, and from 15 to 18 percent in Nevada. Only in New Mexico was the Hispanic percentage down, from 41 to 37 percent, perhaps because New Mexico was essentially conceded to Obama by both campaigns early on.
Recent years have not been kind to the Republican brand among Hispanic voters in these four states. In addition to Barack Obama decisively defeating Mitt Romney last month, the Republican Party’s image suffers when compared to the Democratic Party’s image, both in general and on a variety of specific issues.
One encouraging fact for Republicans is that conservative Hispanics elected in 2010 – Senator Marco Rubio in Florida, Governor Susana Martinez in New Mexico, and Governor Brian Sandoval in Nevada – are far more popular in their states than the Republican Party overall. But in Colorado, where former Republican congressman and outspoken anti-immigrant activist Tom Tancredo was the de facto Republican nominee for governor last cycle, the situation for Republicans among Hispanics is dire.
The Democratic Party fares much better, with Hispanic voters saying the party does respect the values and concerns of Hispanic voters by 67 to 28 percent in Florida, 72 to 23 percent in New Mexico and Nevada, and 76 to 20 percent in Colorado. These results are a stark illustration of the challenge the Republican Party faces among Hispanic voters, and show the importance of quality outreach efforts and a respectful tone, along with attractive policy ideas, when trying to win votes in the Hispanic community.
The Democratic Party, by comparison, has favorable to unfavorable ratings of two-to-one or better in each state – 60 to 30 percent in Florida, 66 to 26 percent in New Mexico, 69 to 24 percent in Nevada, and 72 to 23 percent in Colorado. President Obama outperforms even these numbers, with favorable to unfavorable ratings of 64 to 34 percent in Florida, 72 to 26 percent in each of New Mexico and Nevada, and 78 to 20 percent in Colorado.