Florida is rich in electoral votes, party competition, and ethnic diversity, making it one of the most interesting states to watch during presidential elections. Republican Senator Marco Rubio adds yet another compelling element to the state political narrative during this election cycle. Frequently mentioned as a potential running mate for Governor Mitt Romney, Rubio could energize his home state and make history as the first Latino Vice Presidential nominee (and perhaps Vice President). He has strong appeal among and non-Latinos in Florida, Tea Party donors and voters, and the larger Republican base; all good reasons for him to be taken very seriously. His appeal beyond the party base is less clear, and moderate swing voters are the name of the game in close elections (as this one is shaping up to be). A recent post here by Professor Casey Klofstad noted it is unlikely that a Marco Rubio vice presidential nomination would sway many Latino voters in the state. The most recent Latino Decisions survey of Florida’s Latino electorate finds 0nly 25% report they would be much more likely to vote for Romney if Rubio were on the ballot.
Voters responded to the following: Marco Rubio, a Cuban American Republican Senator from Florida, has been rumored to be on the list of likely nominees for Vice-President. If Mitt Romney selects Senator Rubio as his Vice-Presidential candidate, what effect would it have on your likelihood of voting Republican in the November 2012 presidential election?
Almost one-third of Florida Latino voters, 31,% say they would be more likely to vote for Romney under this condition, with 25% saying much more likely. Those figures are notably higher relative to those outside the states, where 17% are more supportive and only 10% much more so. It stands to reason that Floridians would be more supportive of a GOP ticket that included their home state senator. Yet, we also know that the Florida Latino electorate consistently votes Republican at higher rates than their counterparts in other states.
Are those “much more” likely to vote Romney-Rubio actually motivated by the vice presidential pick, or, were they Republican voters to begin with? This same poll asked respondents who they planned to vote for in the 2012 election. Respondents were asked, “If the 2012 election for President was held today and the candidates were Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama who would you most likely vote for?.” Those who named a specific candidate were asked if they were certain about their choice, or whether they might change their mind.
The vast majority of Florida Latino voters are not up for grabs: 53% are certain they will vote for President Obama and 28% are certain they will vote for Governor Romney (Figure 2). In total, 17% of the Florida Latino electorate has yet to make a firm decision. As the illustration shows, 8% are undecided, and another 9% prefer one of the candidates but could well change their mind between now and Election Day. That 17% of the “moveable” Florida Latino electorate is especially important because the political environment is so very competitive.
Taking these two items in combination gives a better idea about the potential impact a Romney-Rubio ticket (Fig 3). As noted, 31% of the state’s Latino voters report being more likely to vote GOP if Rubio joins the ticket. The illustration above shows the vast majority, 66%, of those who say Rubio’s nomination will increase their likelihood of voting for Romney, are already certain they will do so. Similarly, 82% of those who say they are less likely to support Romney with Rubio on the ticket, have already decided they will vote for President Obama. The share of Obama and Romney voters that would switch teams in context of a Rubio nomination effectively cancel each other out.
So what share of Florida’s Latino electorate could be persuaded by Senator Rubio’s nomination? At most, 9%. The moveable share of the Florida Latino electorate is only 17%. Among that pivotal group (undecided, leaning, and those who say they could change their mind), 42% say they would be somewhat or much more likely to vote for Mitt Romney if Rubio were on the ticket. Even though the undecided proportion could be swayed at a higher rate, it is not enough to shift the overall trends in Romney’s favor because the baseline gap between Obama and Romney support is too substantial (Figure 4).
If all of the undecided, leaning and Obama voters who said the VP pick could change their vote actually did, Romney would reach 38% of the Latino vote. (Recall Romney would lose some votes from his existing base with a Rubio at VP, so the gains from Obama voters are even smaller.) That said, both campaigns would be wise to continue strategizing over their best possible scenarios with the Florida Latino electorate. The margins are too slim to pass up any opportunity to win over Latino voters.
Sylvia Manzano is a senior analyst at Latino Decisions.