Wither Hispanic voters?

| March 14 2012
Christopher Cook

There has been a lot of talk lately about the changing demographics of America and how that might impact political races.

Some, especially some on the left, note the tendency for Hispanic voters to prefer Democrats, and suggest (with some glee) that the GOP is fated to a diminishing future as a result of that cohort’s growth as a percentage of the population.

Others reply that Demographics are not destiny. Hispanic voters may trend leftwards, but in many past elections, they have not voted nearly so monolithically as do black voters or nonreligious Jewish voters. Republicans will note that there are a number of issues on which the GOP and Hispanics are simpatico, and that Hispanics should be treated as individuals with individual opinions, rather than as some monolithic collective. Moreover, Republicans point out, as Hispanics assimilate into the culture, second- and third-generation Hispanics are far less likely to vote according to some established pattern or stereotype.

The question of how Hispanic voters might trend in the 2012 election is, of course, a source of interest. There are three recent items of note to which to call your attention. They all point in different directions, and yet they can be synthesized.

First, there is this headline: GOP Hopefuls Losing Ground to Obama Among Latinos, Poll Says

Despite growing disappointment in his handling of immigration issues, Latino voters favor President Barack Obama by six-to-one over any of the Republican presidential hopefuls, showed a Fox News Latino poll conducted under the direction of Latin Insights and released Monday.

The national poll of likely Latino voters indicated that 73 percent of them approved of Obama’s performance in office, with over half those questioned looking favorably upon his handling of the healthcare debate and the economy, at 66 percent and 58 percent respectively.

Released on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries in the race for the GOP nomination, the Fox News Latino poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 35 percent of Latino voter support, to Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s 13 percent, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich‘s 12 percent, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 9 percent.

But the poll shows that the overwhelming choice among likely Latino voters is President Obama. In head-to-head match-ups none of the GOP candidates would garner more than 14 percent of the Latino vote come November, the poll said.

Before Republicans run screaming into the night, however, there are two more items to cover.

First, this:

Hispanic Vote Not The Game Changer You Might Think It Is

[ . . . ] New numbers suggest that previous predictions of between 11 and 12 million Hispanic citizens voting in 2012 might be overly optimistic, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. Barring a major investment in registration, turnout, or both, that’s about 10.5 million votes cast.

Gonzalez dug into the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and found that Hispanic voter registration dropped from 11.6 million to 10.9 million in 2010. Voter registration typically speeds up in presidential election years and slows down in “off-year cycles,” he says, but for over half a million voters to drop off the rolls is a big interruption of a twenty-year trend of rising Hispanic voter registration.

Perhaps even more important than the drop in overall Hispanic voters is this salient fact:

But a drop in Hispanic voter registration could impact downballot races, or make the Obama campaign’s task more difficult, Gonzalez said. And it certainly makes life harder for advocates working in states, like California and Texas, that aren’t competitive on a national level but are where about half of America’s Hispanics actually live.

“Remember, the battleground states only represent about one in five Hispanic voters,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t just depend on presidential campaigns to reverse this trend.”

California is going D no matter what. Texas is going R no matter what. But in battleground states, Hispanics do not make up nearly as large a share of the population, and their numbers have decreased. So, if it is true that the Hispanic vote will go monolithically Democrat in this election, it will at least have less of an impact than it did in 2008.

But finally, the GOP’s nominee for president has a chance to cut into Obama’s support from Hispanics:

One area where Republicans could gain back ground among Latino voters is by the choice of Vice President. Almost one-third of Latino voters say that they would consider voting Republican if there were a Latino on the ticket.

Both Florida junior Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martínez have been mentioned as possible names for the eventual GOP presidential ticket.

Almost one-quarter of Latinos said they would be more willing to vote for a Republican if Rubio was on the ticket, with this number rising to almost four-in-ten in Florida, a potential swing state.

About one-fifth of likely Latino voters would be more willing to vote for a Republican if Martínez  got the VP nod.

Rubio is a very logical choice, especially for a candidate like Mitt Romney. He is a rock-ribbed conservative, which would help Romney shore up the conservative base. He is charming, winsome, professional yet affable. And he is Hispanic. I would be highly surprised if Rubio weren’t on everyone’s short list. Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez, and even Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico are most likely also on the list.

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