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New Polling of Nevada Latino Voters: Immigration Matters, GOP Brand Image in Trouble, But Warning Signs for Democratic Senate Hopes?

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New polling of Nevada Latino voters, conducted by Latino Decisions and commissioned by America’s Voice, makes clear that immigration matters to Latino voters; that Donald Trump is deeply unpopular with Latino voters; and that the Republican Party’s brand image with Latinos is deeply damaged and getting worse, due in part to Trump’s rise and the politicized U.S. v Texas Supreme Court case. The new polling of Nevada Latino voters also finds that, compared to generic congressional candidates, potential Democratic Senate nominee Catherine Cortez Masto is under-performing and potential Republican Senate nominee Joe Heck is over-performing among Nevada Latinos.

Among the key findings:

Immigration Matters to Nevada Latino Voters – It’s Personal: When asked the open-ended question, “what are the most important issues that you think Congress and the President should address,” Nevada Latino voters ranked the economy/jobs first at 37%, immigration second at 30%, education at 12%, and health care at 10%. However, when asked “what are the most important issues facing the Latino community that you think Congress and the President should address?”, Nevada Latino voters ranked immigration first at 49%, followed by the economy/jobs (27%), education (17%), and anti-Latino or anti-immigrant discrimination at 13%. The polling underscores the fact that Latino voters have a personal connection to the immigration debate – 63% of Nevada Latino voters know someone who is undocumented; 45% of Nevada Latino voters know someone who has faced deportation or detention for immigration reasons; and 46% know someone who has applied for DACA.

Compared to Generic Congressional Candidates, Rep. Joe Heck is Over-performing and Catherine Cortez Masto Under-performing Among Nevada Latinos; Both Candidates’ Immigration Views Remain Largely Unknown: When asked whether they would support a generic congressional Democratic candidate or generic Republican candidate for Congress, Nevada Latino voters are more likely to vote the generic Democrat over the generic Republican by a 74%-13% margin. However, when asked whether their likely vote choice in a potential Senate race between Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada Latino voters supported Cortez Masto by a 58%-22% margin – meaning that Heck is over-performing and Cortez-Masto under-performing compared to the generic congressional candidate question. Of note, a sizeable percentage of Nevada Latino voters lack of knowledge about each candidate’s views and positions on immigration, with 38% of Nevada Latino voters saying they don’t know Joe Heck’s views on immigration and 36% saying they don’t know Catherine Cortez Masto’s views. However, knowing that Joe Heck has said he would support the eventual Republican presidential nominee even if that ends up being Donald Trump makes Nevada Latino voters “less likely,” rather than “more likely,” to support Heck by a 70%-14% margin.

Donald Trump and His Anti-Immigrant Views Are Incredibly Unpopular with Nevada Latinos: Despite growing speculation that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is trying to appear as a more “disciplined” candidate in preparation for a possible general election candidacy, the new Latino polling numbers makes clear the extent of the challenge Trump and the Republican Party will have in trying to reverse the damage inflicted by Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign. In the new polling, 87% of Nevada Latino voters have either a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump (81% “very unfavorable”), as compared to just 11% of who view him as “very” or “somewhat” favorable – meaning that his net favorability is underwater by 76 percentage points. Trump’s views on mass deportation make Nevada Latino voters “less likely” to vote for Trump, rather than “more likely,” by an 88%-6% margin. And when asked to gauge Donald Trump’s views on immigrants and immigration on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the most anti-immigrant and 10 being the most pro-immigrant, 73% of Nevada Latino voter respondents ranked Trump as a 1, the most extreme anti-immigrant ranking.

The Republican Brand with Nevada Latino Voters is Deeply Damaged – with Donald Trump Helping to Dig a Deeper Hole: More than 3-of-4 Nevada Latino voters say the Republican Party “doesn’t care too much about Latinos” (47%) or that the GOP is “sometimes hostile towards Latinos” (31%), while just 14% say the Republican Party “truly cares about the Latino community.” Additionally, when Nevada Latino voters are asked if the GOP has, in recent years, become more welcoming to Latinos, more hostile to Latinos, or has not really changed, 42% say the Republican Party has become more hostile, 15% say the Republican Party has become more welcoming; and 42% say no change. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s views on immigration are taking a toll on the larger GOP brand – 80% of Nevada Latino respondents say that Trump’s views on immigrants and immigration make them “less likely” to vote Republican this November.

The Republican Presidential Nominee Could Underperform Mitt Romney’s Performance Among Nevada Latinos from 2012: When asked candidate head-to-head matchups between the parties’ leading presidential contenders, Nevada Latino voters prefer Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 76%-13% margin, and Clinton over Ted Cruz by a 67%-25% margin. Bernie Sanders similarly is favored over Trump by a 82%-9% margin and over Cruz by a 74%-20% margin. In 2012, Nevada Latino voters ended up supporting President Obama by a 74%-22% margin over Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election, according to Latino Decisions Election Eve polling (71%-24% among Nevada Latinos in 2012 media-sponsored exit polls).

The Political Impact of the U.S. v Texas Ruling Will Matter this November: The polling also showed that Nevada Latino voters will punish the Republicans for opposing executive action and reward the Democrats for defending it. Per the new polling, knowing that Republican presidential candidates want to end DAPA, the 2014 executive action that would protect the undocumented parents of American children, makes Nevada Latino voters “less likely,” rather than “more likely,” to vote for the Republican Party this November by a 77%-12% margin in the case of DAPA. Similarly, knowing that Republican presidential candidates want to end DACA, the 2012 executive action that protects Dreamers, makes Nevada Latino voters “less likely,” rather than “more likely,” to vote for the Republican Party this November by a 73%-10% margin. Meanwhile, knowing that Democratic presidential candidates want to continue DAPA and DACA makes Nevada Latino voters “more likely,” rather than “less likely,” to vote for the Democratic Party this November by a 81%-11% margin in the case of DAPA and a 79%-10% margin in the case of DACA.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Immigration is of course a major issue for Latino voters, as is concern over the economy and jobs. By asking the ‘most important’ issue question in two different ways, the polling helps remind us that these issues are ‘both/and’ concerns for Latino voters, not ‘either/or’ issues. This election cycle has injected immigration into the national political debate in an unprecedented way and this polling brings home in stark reality the fact that Latino voters feel personally targeted by Donald Trump and the Republican Party as a whole. The numbers do not bode well for the Republicans and the vision of the inclusive party they had hoped to build post-2012.”

According to David Damore, Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions, “The first wave of 2016 polling by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions demonstrates the degree to which immigration shapes Latino political behavior in the Silver State.  The results also underscore how the parties’ diverging approaches to immigration is making it virtually impossible for the GOP to cut into its already lopsided margins with Latino voters.  The rhetoric of Donald Trump, in particular, not only adds to the Republicans’ dismal standing with Latino voters, but may in fact motivate more Latinos to participate in the 2016 election.”

According to political analyst José Dante Parra, “Every election cycle since 2008 has shown that when major candidates engage positively on the immigration issue, and message it effectively to Latino voters, they tend to win. Harry Reid proved it decisively in 2010 when pundits had pronounced him politically dead. And as 2014 showed, when candidates neglect immigration and communicating with Hispanics, these voters simply do not turn out. This poll shows immigration will continue to play a pivotal role in 2016. The GOP’s Trump/Cruz anti-immigrant doctrine is clearly hurting the party, but Democrats need to communicate, reach out and keep communicating. When it comes to immigration, Latinos need something to vote for, not just against, and these numbers bear that out.”