The Hispanic Vote: Challenging Our Assumptions

Republicans are in general agreement about one central premise as we look ahead to future elections—we must do better with Hispanic voters.  That begins with challenging some long held assumptions.

Data referenced below is taken from a post-election survey conducted in New Mexico among 500 voters who cast a ballot in 2012.  Thirty-seven percent (37%) of the sample is Hispanic.  While New Mexico is a good case study given the size of the Hispanic voting population, this is not meant to be an exhaustive characterization of the national Hispanic population.  It’s just a start.

The presidential ballot in New Mexico this year was 42% Romney/52% Obama.  According to exit polls, Romney lost Hispanics 29%-64%, one point less than McCain earned in 2008 (30%) and substantially lower than George W. Bush’s 40% in 2004.

Assumption #1:  Hispanics are conservative so they should be with us.

Asked to identify themselves ideologically, just 32% of Hispanics consider themselves conservative on most issues.  That compares to 39% of white voters who say they are conservative.  A plurality (45%) of Hispanics consider themselves to be moderate.

Younger Hispanics are even less conservative – just 25% consider themselves ideologically conservative.

Assumption #2:  Catholic Hispanics are more likely to vote Republican than other Hispanics.

It is assumed that Republicans can appeal to Catholic Hispanics on social conservative issues, particularly on the abortion issue. This assumption leads to GOP candidates organizing lit drops at Catholic churches the Sunday before Election Day and other such tactics.

The New Mexico post-election survey demonstrated that Hispanic Catholics were actually LESS likely to support Romney for President than non-Catholic Hispanics.

When asked with whom they agree with more on issues, Republicans or Democrats, just 23% of Hispanic Catholics say Republicans while 65% say Democrats. Protestant Hispanics, on the other hand, agree more with Republicans (58%) than Democrats (39%) on issues.

This doesn’t mean Republicans should not work to earn the vote of Catholic Hispanics, but we need to challenge our assumptions in developing the messages and strategies we implement in our campaigns.

Assumption #3:  We need to focus on immigration to earn the Hispanic vote.

The issue of immigration is important, but it’s our rhetoric that fails us, not necessarily our general positioning.  Hispanics need to hear the GOP position to assure them that we do not show signs of discrimination, or worse.  The top issues for Hispanic voters revolve around opportunities for their families through the economy, job creation, and education.

Interestingly, the top issues cited as reasons Hispanics agree more with Republicans are the economy, abortion and immigration. It is quite possible that we may find common ground on immigration but shrill rhetoric kills the message.

Assumption #4:  Republicans do not perform as well among newer Hispanic immigrants.

This isn’t an assumption.  It’s a big problem for the Republican future unless meaningful steps are taken to address it.

Romney performed roughly ten points worse among Hispanics who are bilingual or Spanish-dominant in their homes, follow Hispanic media, or were born outside the U.S.

We have to be more present.  As Governor Martinez has said, you can’t just show up before an election and earn the Hispanic vote.  We have to do better than throw up poorly crafted TV or radio with Hispanic actors that say “trust me.”  The communication has to mean something, and trust has to be earned.

Change in approach begins with deconstructing the problem and then building toward a better way forward.

Public Opinion Strategies