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Given that Latino voters across the country view immigration as a defining, threshold issue and noting how Mitt Romney has embraced a hardline immigration stance, it may surprise some observers that Romney continues to poll ahead of other candidate alternatives among Florida Latinos in the upcoming primary election.
New analysis from Victoria DeFrancesco Soto of Latino Decisions offers an explanation, highlighting how and why Cuban-American voters in Florida’s Latino electorate are distinct in their voting habits from Latino voters of non-Cuban heritage:
“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.”