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.
Disturbingly, majorities of voters in each state say that “Is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “Understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “Makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.” But one area of potential concern for Democrats is seen on “Views the Hispanic community as a group, rather than as individuals,” where they lead Republicans in every state by double-digit margins. This suggests a sense among some Hispanic voters that the Democratic Party takes them and their vote for granted, thus offering Republicans an opportunity to make inroads among these voters with a results-oriented agenda that does not pander.
In Nevada, which saw the biggest gap, 50 percent of voters say the Obama campaign personally contacted them five times or more, 28 percent say one to four times, and 19 percent say it never contacted them. By comparison, 33 percent say the Romney campaign personally contacted them five times or more, 26 percent say one to four times, and 37 percent say it never contacted them.
In Florida, 32 percent of voters say the Obama campaign personally contacted them five times or more, 32 percent say one to four times, and 32 percent say it never contacted them. By comparison, 30 percent say the Romney campaign personally contacted them five times or more, 28 percent say one to four times, and 39 percent say it never contacted them. Romney outreach focused predominantly on Cubans, 36 percent of whom were contacted five or more times, 22 percent one to four times, and 37 percent never contacted.
Immigration placed last among these tested issues, but that does not mean it was unimportant. In each state majorities rated immigration as either a five (extremely important) or four on this scale. But the issue was less salient this year with voters facing a challenging economy.
There is ample opportunity for conservatives to support approaches that garner Hispanic support. Increased border security, for example, draws the support of four-fifths of Hispanic voters in these states, while components of the DREAM Act or Achieve proposals secure even higher levels of support.
Hispanic voters say tying teacher pay to student achievement is “fair, because teachers who help their students more should be rewarded and the program gives extra incentives to teachers in low-performing schools” rather than “unfair, because teachers don’t have control over the quality of their students and whether they have a good learning environment at home,” including a 54 to 38 percent margin in Nevada, a 52 to 40 percent margin in New Mexico, a 50 to 42 percent margin in Florida, and a 48 to 42 percent margin in Colorado. Given the relative importance of education to Hispanic voters noted above, these issues offer a good opportunity for conservatives to highlight their proposals.
Republicans should not expect to win a majority of the Hispanic vote nationally any time in the foreseeable future. But they can reasonably win more than 40 percent of Hispanic voters in many states. Winning at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can make the difference between winning and losing these four states, all of which Obama carried. In a close election, winning battleground states with large and growing Hispanic populations make the difference between winning and losing the Presidency.
The best way to improve the economy and increase job opportunities for Hispanics is to limit government spending, lower taxes, and reduce excessive regulations that hurt small businesses.
The best way to improve the economy and increase job opportunities for Hispanics is to increase government investment in job training, education, and infrastructure.
While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Government policies should promote opportunity by fostering job growth, encouraging entrepreneurs, and allowing hardworking people to keep more of what they earn.
Government policies should promote fairness by narrowing the gap between rich and poor, making the rich pay a higher share and reducing income inequality.
The percentage of Hispanics choosing opportunity over fairness is 53 percent in Florida, 42 percent in Colorado, 48 percent in New Mexico, and 48 percent in Nevada. Achieving those percentages for a Republican candidate would dramatically enhance Republican chances of carrying each state in a presidential election.
Republicans face some major challenges among Hispanic Americans, problems that will not be resolved just by passing immigration reform legislation. Years of harsh rhetoric and punitive policies will not be undone overnight. Fixing a broken immigration system is necessary but not sufficient to make Republicans competitive in the Hispanic community.
But resolving those problems is imperative if Republicans hope to remain a competitive force in national politics. Numbers do not lie, and growing Hispanic influence in American life will only continue to grow. The party offers an impressive cadre of Hispanic Republican leaders, and an array of possible immigration reforms and other popular policy initiatives regarding education and small businesses that are consistent with conservative principles. New candidates, new policies, and a new tone are all imperative.
President George W. Bush and his campaign demonstrated the way forward in 2004, when an aggressive outreach effort and popular policies in the Hispanic community yielded 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. As this memo demonstrates, reaching a comparable level once again in the Hispanic community is imminently achievable.
Ronald Reagan demonstrated the right tone. His farewell address in 1989 included the following passage:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”
Conservatives have a ways to go to make significant gains in the Hispanic community. But there is an opportunity and the way forward is clear.
These surveys of 400 Hispanic voters in each of four states – Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada – were conducted November 28-December 7, 2012. Respondents were selected randomly from a listed sample of Hispanic registered voters. All respondents confirmed that they voted in the 2012 presidential election and are of Hispanic or Latino decent.
All calls were conducted by live bilingual interviewers, and the interview began in the language spoken by the respondent. Early in each interview – either as the first question asked within the landline sample and as the first question after confirming the safe use of a cell phone in the cell phone sample – each respondent had the choice to take the survey in English or Spanish. Quotas were set for county, age, and gender based on voter registration, and the sample was minimally weighted to match the exit poll support for President Obama and Governor Romney.
The margin of error for responses with an even split – 50 percent for one response and 50 percent for another response – is plus or minus 4.90 percentage points for each of the four full samples. The margin of error declines as the split in the respondents becomes less even. For example, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.24 percentage points when the 400 respondents split 75 percent for one response and 25 percent for another.
The margin of error is higher for subgroups of the sample. For example, when respondents split evenly on a question the margin of error increases from 4.90 percent to 6.93 percent for subsamples of 200, and to 9.80 percent for subsamples of 100.