This article was originally published at NBC Latino
Judging by the more than 400 “likes” on Newt Gingrich – Para Latinos Facebook, Newt Gingrich should do well with Latinos in the Florida primary this coming Tuesday. By contrast, Mitt Romney only has a dozen or so “likes” on his page. But Facebook popularity does not win elections because according to the Univision-ABC-Latino Decisions poll released this week of Latino Florida voters Romney wins the popularity contest that really matters.
Less than a week before the primary, Mitt Romney’s favorability among Latinos in Florida is at 40%, comfortably ahead of Newt Gingrich’s 33% approval. More specifically, Romney’s favorables are not only higher but his unfavorables are lower than Gingrich’s. When these Latino voters were asked who they would vote for, Romney’s favorability ratings translated into solid vote intentions, 35%, followed by Newt Gingrich at 20%, Ron Paul at 6%, and Rick Santorum at 8%.
Gingrich may be surging among the general electorate in Florida, but among Floridian Latinos a surge has yet to materialize. They refuse to embrace Newt Gingrich even though he is the only candidate that has coordinated a consistent Latino outreach effort since late 2010. His is the only campaign with a full fledged Spanish language website, presidentegingrich.com, which greets the Latino visitors with a list of 10 reasons why he’s their guy. Romney on the other hand has a a rinky-dink English language page that looks like a low-tech blog.
The lack of Latino love for Gingrich is even more puzzling given he has stood alone among the GOP primary candidates in his less draconian views toward immigration reform. Meanwhile, Romney who has advocated an enforcement-only approach to immigration, said he would veto the DREAM Act, and suggested self-deportation as a way to address our failed immigration system. It would seem that Latinos who continue to rank immigration as the first or second most important issue area would support the candidate that is closer to their issue positions.
The answer to Gingrich’s Florida Latino slump is simple – Cuban-Americans. This group makes up a little more than half of the Latino electorate in Florida and this group by and large is not personally affected by immigration because of their legal status. This is not to say that Cuban-Americans do not support immigration reform or the DREAM Act, they simply are not as personally affected by the issue as Mexican immigrants. In the latest Univision-ABC-Latino Decisions poll, 36% of Cuban-American voters indicated immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community, while half of Mexican-American voters named immigration their top concern.
Romney may not have a polished Latino-targeted website and a large Latino Facebook following. But who needs that, when you have the endorsements of the most prominent national Cuban-American political leaders, Ileana Roth-Leithen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Mario Diaz-Balart. Romney has also garnered a long list of endorsements from city and state Latino leaders. Finally, the rumors that Marco Rubio is on the short list for Romney’s running mate can’t hurt.
Not all is lost for Gingrich in his quest for the Latino vote. His outreach and policy positions place him as a frontrunner among the Latino electorate in Texas, the state with the second largest Latino population. The former Speaker also edges out Romney among Independent Latino voters at the national level, an especially crucial electorate to consider looking to the general election. Finally, Gingrich shows the strongest approval ratings from foreign-born Latino voters showing that his immigration policy position has indeed paid off.
Seen from the microscope of Florida, Gingrich’s Latino outreach seems to have failed. However, once the lens is zoomed out Gingrich’s apparent Latino puzzle dissolves. He will have to continue to court the Latino Republican and Independent vote but in the meantime, his time and monetary investments have provided a solid groundwork among Latinos moving beyond January 31st.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is the Communications Director for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin. Connect with her at: firstname.lastname@example.org