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Can GOP Make Gains With Hispanic Voters?

Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

Is there room for Republican optimism? Maybe for future elections, but not a lot of it for this upcoming one. The poll reaffirmed previous studies that show registered Hispanic voters rate unemployment and the economy as higher voting priorities than immigration policies — a sign that Romney is right to focus on how Obama’s economic policies have hurt Hispanics. There also appears to be a generational shift that could give Republicans an opening to attract younger Hispanic voters in the future:

Still, Romney does twice as well among second-generation Latinos compared with immigrants. Among immigrant voters, just 18 percent support Romney. That number rises to 22 percent among the children of at least one immigrant parent and to 35 percent among Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for two generations or more.

Democratic pollster Margie Omero says she heard threads of “generational movement and shift” in a focus group of Hispanic women in Las Vegas this month that she helped run with Republican pollster Alex Bratty. The session was part of a series sponsored by Wal-Mart on middle-income women seen as swing voters and dubbed “Wal-Mart Moms.”

But Romney’s problem with Hispanic voters appears to be as much about the overall GOP brand as it is about him specifically. The Republican Party has very high unfavorables (58 percent with Hispanics born outside the U.S. and 61 percent with Hispanics born in the U.S.) and very low favorables (25 percent and 32 percent for the same categories). Of course it doesn’t help that he took a very strong stance against the DREAM Act during the primary. But the problem is about more than just Romney, and it’s not going to be solved in one election.


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