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The GOP’s 2012 Latino Outreach Plan: A Wish, a Prayer, & a Gamble

America's Voice | Released on 07/28/2011

RNC Chair’s New Comments Show GOP Still Out of Step with Latino Voters

Washington, DC – New comments by the head of the Republican Party demonstrate that when it comes to appealing to Latino voters, the GOP still just doesn’t get it.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairperson Reince Priebus “dismissed the idea that the party’s support among Latinos will be hurt over immigration,” according to the Associated Press, saying, “It’s not going to hurt us one bit.  Obviously we’re going to focus in on the economy, which transcends all background.”  However, recent polling of Latino voters show that immigration is, in fact, a defining issue for Latino voters, and that the Republican Party has a deep deficit on the issue after years of anti-immigrant legislating and campaigning.  In discussing the key swing state of Florida, Priebus also engaged in wishful thinking, pretending that Latino voters will focus only on the fact that Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio is Latino, and ignore Rubio’s own enforcement-only immigration stance or the hard-line anti-immigration positions of Republican Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) and GOP candidates.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The Republican Party’s outreach plan to Latino voters amounts to a wish, a prayer, and a gamble.  Instead of adapting their actual position on immigration reform, the Party is hoping that running a few more Latino candidates, placing a few more Spanish-language ads on television, and focusing only on the poor economy will be enough to overcome their continued embrace of a mass-deportation immigration platform.  Yet this assessment misreads the Latino electorate and their motivations and endangers the GOP’s prospects in a range of potentially pivotal 2012 states.”

Here are several key lessons for Priebus and Republican strategists as we gear up for 2012:

  • It’s Not Enough to Only Focus on the Economy – Immigration is the Top Motivating Issue for Latino Voters: While Latino voters, like all Americans, are deeply concerned about the economy, the immigration issue is a defining and motivating issue that is frequently cited as the top issue they want Congress and the President to address.  According to a straw poll of leaders at the annual NCLR conference this month, conducted by Lake Research Partners and Revolution Messaging, “Immigration overwhelmingly trumps both the economy and education as the most important issue for Latinos…Almost half (45 percent) of all respondents chose immigration as the top issue, as opposed to jobs and the economy (25 percent), education (21 percent), and health care (6 percent).”  These findings complement June 2011 polling from Latino Decisions and impreMedia that show that immigration continues to be the top issue Latino voters want Washington to address, beating jobs and the economy by 16 points.  Just over half of the respondents said immigration was the top issue facing the Latino community and important for Congress to address vs. 35% who said either jobs or the economy.  Unfortunately for Priebus, by a 65% to 19% margin, more voters trusted Democrats than Republicans on the issue in the Latino Decisions/impreMedia poll.
  • Latino Voters Are Paying Attention to Hardline Immigration Proposals and Politicians:  When asked about the low approval ratings of Governor Rick Scott, who recently announced that a renewed push for hardline immigration laws will be his top legislative priority, Priebus said, “He’s not on the ballot, and I don’t think a governor that’s been there for two years is going to affect what people think about the direction of our country and who sits in the White House.”  Unfortunately, Florida Latinos are already engaged and paying attention to anti-immigrant proposals and helped to defeat a proposed Florida enforcement-only law earlier this year.  Alongside continued federal efforts to pass mandatory E-Verify and the HALT Act, while blocking progress on the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the Republican Party is ensuring that immigration is a top-of-mind-issue for Latino voters in Florida and across the country.  And as 2010 polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi found, 72% of Latino voters would not consider voting for a congressional candidate who was in favor of forcing most undocumented immigrants to leave the country (vs. only 19% of Latino voters who would consider it). 
  • A Candidate’s Position on Immigration Matters More to Latino Voters than His or Her Ethnic Background:  Meanwhile, Priebus also noted “We’ve got Marco Rubio there in Florida, who’s an absolute star.  We have the political stars of the Hispanic community in our party. They are the rising stars and they’re with us and they’re going to help us communicate this message across America.”  However, many of the 2010 Latino Republican candidates that Priebus and other Republicans tout as evidence of the Party’s success with Latino voters ran on anti-immigrant platforms and performed poorly with Latino voters.  Neither of the Latino Republicans elected to governorships in 2010—Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez—came close to winning a majority of the Latino vote in their races.   As for Marco Rubio, in his 2010 election, he won 62% of the Latino vote – with 78% Cuban Latinos and only 40% non-Cuban Latino vote – yet Rubio’s opponents failed to make his anti-immigration stance a liability despite the staunchly pro-immigrant stance of Florida Hispanic voters.  Now, especially after a recent contentious state legislative battle over anti-immigrant legislation that rallied the Hispanic community against the bill and his co-sponsorship of the disastrous, mandatory E-Verify bill, Rubio is going to have a hard time changing his party’s image among Latino voters, especially if he continues to balk at sensible legislation such as the DREAM ActAccording to conservative columnist Ruben Navarrette, “Marco Rubio is the Republican Party’s Superman.  And, the immigration issue, if not handled correctly, is his kryptonite.”  

According to Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The Republican Party’s stance and obstinacy on immigration is pushing Latino voters into the arms of the Democrats.  When it comes to Latino outreach, the GOP continues to be its own worst enemy.”

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