Polling Latinos: What Would It Take To Turn Republican?

Host Scott Simon talks with Gary Segura, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, about whether Latino voters are more likely to vote Republican if the party backs comprehensive immigration reform. Segura is also a professor of American Politics and chairman of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford University.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Republican National Committee this week released what amounts to an autopsy on the 2012 election. Among the bullet points of advice was: Republicans need to win more votes from Hispanics; supporting comprehensive immigration reform might help. Now, President Obama won an estimated 71 percent of the Latino vote last fall. Would helping to change immigration policy make future Republican candidates more appealing to Hispanic voters? We're going to put that question to Gary Segura. He's a professor of American politics at Stanford University and co-founder of Latino Decisions. That's a polling firm that focuses on the opinions and attitudes of Latino Americans. Professor Segura joins us from Stanford. Thanks so much for being with us.

GARY SEGURA: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: The bipartisan group of senators working on an immigration bill are expected to unveil this legislation next month. If Latinos see Republicans support this legislation, do you think that might begin to bring a few more Hispanic voters their way?

SEGURA: I do. I think it's going to be contingent on the behavior in the House of Representatives and whether or not the bill's actually enacted into law. But there's definitely room for growth, for GOP share of the Latino vote, if they could only get the immigration issue behind them.

SIMON: And what are some of the other issues that you think are important, for that matter, for both parties to look at to win Latino votes?

SEGURA: Well, I think the next big issue for Latinos is the quality of education. A huge percentage of Latino students go to underfunded schools. Access to higher education is also a huge issue as an undereducated share of the population. And this is a big deal, and as support for state colleges and state universities is declining across the country with state budgets in such trouble.

SIMON: What about what we identify now as social issues, be it same-sex marriage or abortion? And I recognize those are two different issues but...

SEGURA: Two different issues with two very different answers. So, the GOP has long considered social issues as a door reaching into the Latino community. It is true that on abortion Latinos are somewhat more conservative than whites, but not wildly so. When you move to the issues of gay and lesbian rights, it turns out that Latinos are now as supportive, if not more supportive. We have, in our recent polling, found that Latino registered voters overwhelmingly favor marriage equality in the 55 percent range. And part of this, I think, is that Latinos view these issues through a family lens. That is, you know, would I want my child to be denied this right - not through a religious lens. We found that Latinos don't like applying religious beliefs to politics. So, I think that that really limits the appeal of a sort of social conservative outreach strategy to bringing Latinos into the GOP.

SIMON: What about an issue that is important to many Republicans, and that's freeing the business community of what they see as taxes or regulations that go too far?

SEGURA: Here, I think that's a tougher sell. Latinos are a majority liberal constituency. They favor larger taxes on a higher-income persons; they favor larger taxes on businesses and corporations. They're a very entrepreneurial group of people. So, the idea that small businesses need to be freed from a variety of regulations might in fact be a sell.

SIMON: So, if you were giving advice to the Republicans, would it be that the appeal has to be larger than just immigration?

SEGURA: I think the answer to that is yes. But the first issue is the sort of political Hippocratic Oath. First: do no harm. If Republicans would merely stop grandstanding on the issue of immigration and stop demonizing these communities, that would begin the process of Republican brand recovery.

SIMON: As we noted, President Obama won an estimated 71 percent of the Latino vote when he was re-elected last time. Would Republicans have to win that much to make a substantial difference nationally?

SEGURA: No, no. In fact, the Republicans don't actually have to win the Latino vote in order to be competitive again. They just can't be crushed as they have been in the last couple of elections. We actually did some back-of-the-envelope estimation of Latino decisions, and we found that if Governor Romney had gotten as much as 38 percent of the Latino vote, he would have flipped Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. That's all you need in order to be truly competitive. You don't need to win an outright majority. You just can't be crushed.

SIMON: Gary Segura, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a polling firm that tracks the opinion of Latino Americans. Thanks so much for being with us.

SEGURA: My pleasure.

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