Hispanic Voters and The Economy: Moving Beyond “Opportunity”

Public Opinion Strategies conducted a set of special focus groups among Hispanic voters in Las Vegas, NV.  Each group was conducted among 12 respondents for three hours, allowing us to use different projective techniques and a much deeper dive into opinions and beliefs than traditional focus groups.  While the groups were conducted in English, they were moderated by a Spanish-speaking discussion leader.

Our focus group respondents generally felt more aligned with Democrats on economic issues.  These feelings stem from a sense that Democrats are out for the working class, while Republicans are the party of the rich.  We have heard a lot about the class divide leading up to and since this most recent election.

Participants were asked to create collages representing the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.  Much of the focus of the collage exercise was on the class divide.  Some examples of the collages are posted here.  In the simplest terms, Republicans are viewed as “hurting” while Democrats are viewed as “helping” people like themselves.

So, when Republicans start talking about the economy, we’re already behind the eight ball because whatever we are saying is being viewed through a perceptual filter not to our advantage.  These Hispanic voters assumed that whatever a Republican might say will naturally be to the advantage of the wealthy and hurt the working class.

So, we showed them a video of a portion of Governor Susana Martinez’s State of the State speech using some different language.  Not many of our respondents had heard or seen Governor Martinez from neighboring New Mexico prior to our groups.  Click here to view the clip.

The reaction?  Comments following the video segment include:

  • “I thought she was a Democrat because Republicans don’t think like that.”
  • “She sounded more like she was for the small person.”
  • “I felt like she was helping the little guy.”
  • “Surprised to hear ‘fair share.’”
  • “It signals change on their part.”

In fact, the policies that were the focal point of the speech were firmly embedded in Republican principles of lower taxes, and helping small businesses grow so they can create jobs.  But it was the language she used that went beyond the traditional opportunity refrain in common practice among Republicans.  Stressing the importance of lowering tax rates for all businesses to level the playing field with surrounding states signals equality among people, rather than government picking winners and losers.

Governor Martinez is not guaranteeing equal outcomes, but does seem to promote equal opportunity for all to be successful.  Opportunity cannot just exist for the wealthy and powerful, and right now, that is what these Hispanic voters believe.

The link Governor Martinez makes between education and the economy is also an important one.  Not only among these focus group participants, but also in surveys, Hispanic voters put a premium on education.  It is the gateway to a better life for the next generation.  The next post focuses on former Governor Jeb Bush and his education-focused message.

Click here to see other posts in this series.

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