The Stump

Latino Political Sentiment Remains A GOP Dilemma

Meg Whitman and Latino voters

California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, and Moises Marino, her campaign's Latino field director, display a poster targeted at Hispanic voters, August 4, 2010, in Los Angeles.  Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

It would be hard to find stronger proof that former President George W. Bush's dream of pulling significant numbers of Latinos into the Republican Party has been pretty much dashed than the newly released poll from Pew Hispanic Center.

The poll indicates that Latinos have cast their lot with the Democratic Party and not in a tentative way.

According to the poll, 65 percent of Latinos expected to support the Democrat in their local congressional races compared with 22 percent who planned to support the Republican.

Those numbers bore some resemblance to the 67 percent of Hispanics who supported President Barack Obama in 2008 versus the 31 percent who voted for Sen. John McCain.

McCain's percentage compared with 44 percent who voted for Bush's re-election in 2004 compared with the 35 percent of Latinos who voted for him in 2000.

For Republicans, one finding that could prove especially troubling is contained in the response to the question, which party is more concerned about Latinos?

Latino respondents said it was the Democratic Party and not by a small margin. It was 44 percent to six percent.

Worth pointing out is that the percentage of Latinos saying Democrats were more concerned about them than Republicans dropped significantly. It was 55 percent in 2008. (It was essentially unchanged at 6 percent between 2008 and 2010 for Republicans.)

But that still leaves a sizable difference between how Hispanics view Democrats and Republicans.

Meanwhile, the trend for Republicans is going in the wrong direction. Eleven percent of Latino respondents thought the Republican Party had more concern for them in 2002 than the Democrats did.

Since voters presumably vote their interests, to have a significant and growing number of them believe that your party is less concerned about people like them than the opposing party is nothing short of political poison.

Republicans had good reason to believe at the start of the last decade that they could make real inroads with Latino voters.

Generally speaking, many Hispanic voters tended to be more conservative socially — religious and opposed to abortion and gay marriage — and entrepreneurial.

The thinking among Republican strategists was that these qualities would make these voters more receptive to the GOP's anti-abortion and anti-tax message.

But something happened along the way.

Many analysts in recent years have pinned it on resistance within the Republican Party to overhauling the nation's immigration laws and providing a path towards citizenship for immigrants who illegally entered or stayed in the country is the answer.

And not only has their been resistance to providing a citizenship path but recent GOP efforts, like Arizona's recently passed anti-illegal immigrant law likely isn't helping the Republican Party boost its image with Hispanics.

Some Latino citizens have said they detect intolerance in the nativist rhetoric used by some on the side of cracking down hard on undocumented immigrants.

On the other side, when you look at the data in the Pew survey, you can understand whatever Republican reluctance exists to creating a path to citizenship.

Assuming the voting patterns among the undocumented would, once they became legal, follow those of current Latino citizens, Republicans could be locking in their electoral disadvantages in parts of the country with significant Hispanic populations.

Meanwhile, any move towards giving undocumented voters legal status wouldn't be popular with the Republican base. (It also wouldn't be popular with some in the Democratic base but that's a different story.)

This is not a theoretical fear. One reason Republicans lost the House in 2006 was because of a GOP-base backlash to Bush Administration and the Republican Congress' attempt to achieve bipartisan immigration reform.

Thus Republicans continue to have a real dilemma on their hands.

To effectively court Latino voters, an important and growing part of the American electorate, would mean to find a way to be tough on border enforcement and the problem of undocumented workers without resorting to language or actions that seem intolerant.

It's a tall order. But it may be the only way to get the party back on track towards broadening and diversifying its base in the way Bush had hoped for and, indeed, achieved some success.

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