Latino Issues, Voters & GOP Presidential Candidate Positions

Few Latinos will cast ballots in tomorrow’s GOP primaries, which is the case in most states aside from Florida. All the same, Latinos have factored into the party nominating process as a subject of debate and policy positioning. Republican candidates have devoted quite a bit of time to issues disproportionately affecting Latinos, asserting their party and ideological bona fides on topics like official English language laws, immigration, Mexican border control, the DREAM Act, bilingual education and various identification laws. From the vantage point of most Latino voters, the Republican party champions positions opposite to their interests. So what are Latino interests? The best way to find out, is to ask them, which is the fundamental approach of survey methodology.

Contrary to the view that Latinos are too diverse to share a common politics, there are some issues where the group coalesces. There is substantial agreement across many distinct segments within the Latino population (generational cohort, state, national origin, party) on matters related to identity politics. Take the DREAM Act for example; the issue has broad appeal to the Latino electorate, but not so for any of the GOP presidential contenders. Ron Paul has voted against it already as a House member, while Romney and Santorum vowed to veto the bill given the opportunity. Gingrich prefers compulsory military service as the path to citizenship for those whose parents brought them into the country as children without authorization.

Do You Support the DREAM Act?

Latino Voter Responses by Nativity and National Origin Group

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Latino Voter Responses by State and Party Identification

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Latino Voter Responses by Income, Education and Age

image(Source: Univision News/ABC/Latino Decisions January 2012)

The illustrations above show Latino voters in all demographic categories overwhelmingly support the DREAM Act. National origin, party identification and socioeconomic status do not differentiate opinions. Preferences range from “strongly support” to “somewhat support”; with the clear majority — over 50% — voicing strong support no matter their demographic profile.

Arizona SB 1070

All GOP candidates have voiced strong support for SB1070, sometimes in the name of states rights, and other times in terms of the policy content. During the CNN debate in Arizona last week, Mitt Romney said “Arizona is a model” for immigration policy and he would drop the Department of Justice suit against the state upon his election. Governor Jan Brewer, who gained a national following since she signed the bill into law, officially endorsed Romney over the weekend. Gingrich has expressed the same intent, saying the DOJ is preventing Arizona, Alabama, and South Carolina from helping the federal government enforce the law. [The United States Supreme Court will begin hearing Arizona v. United States two months from now, April 25th, and will likely rule on the matter long before the next inauguration.]

Do You Support Arizona SB 1070?

Percent Latino voters responding “strongly oppose” and “oppose” by state

image(Source: Latino Decisions Election Eve Poll, November 2010)

Latino voters overwhelmingly oppose SB1070, no matter their state of residence. Distance from the state and immigrant experience have no bearing. US and foreign-born Latino voters in Arizona are equally concerned about the potential impact on Latino Americans.

How likely is it that Latino American citizens will be questioned by police?

Percent Arizona Latino voters answering “likely” and “very likely” by immigrant cohort

image(Source: Latino Decisions Arizona Latino Voter Poll, May 2010)

At the CNN Arizona debate last week, the candidates accorded respect and deference to Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio. Santorum and Romney praised Arpaio’s work and law enforcement efforts. The auditorium audience applauded at the mention (and camera shot) of Sherriff Joe, and again to candidate references to his good work. But, these applause lines come at the expense of Latinos. Arpaio is currently under federal investigation for leading his law enforcement agency with “pervasive bias against Latinos.” When former candidate Rick Perry campaigned with Arpaio’s endorsement, GOP Latino groups called for Perry to withdraw his candidacy. In-group distinctions (even party preference) make little difference on issues pertinent to the larger ethnic group.

Count On It

Like any other voters, Latinos will choose candidates closest to their political preferences. Of course it makes sense that Latinos voters prefer not to be national scapegoats for American economic and social ills. The graphic below illustrates this point. In the 2010 midterm elections, Latino voters said anti-Latino sentiment was among the most important – if not the most important – factors influencing whether and for whom to vote. In essence, many Latinos showing up on Election Day to play defense for the team.

Does Anti-Latino Sentiment Influence Turnout and Vote Choice Decisions?

Percent of Latino Voters who said it was “the most” or “one of the most” important factors

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(Source: Latino Decisions Election Eve Poll, November 2010)

The data show Latino voters in Republican, Democratic and swing states alike are motivated by group-specific concerns. Republicans cannot count on low Latino voter turnout as part of a winning strategy. Democrats cannot assume Latino support to lead them to victory either.

Despite diminished enthusiasm, millions of Latinos will vote in 2012. The Latino eligible electorate has grown by two million since 2008, and anti-Latino sentiment has increased in the eyes of Latino voters. Beyond whatever ethnic politics plays out in the presidential campaign, there are also competitive down ballot contests, Latino candidates, and combinations thereof with the potential to draw Latino voters to the polls. Candidates, issues, and party strength will vary across states and contests, but Latino voter distaste for rhetoric and policy detrimental to the group will remain constant. We can count on that.

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