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Right Turn
Posted at 01:04 PM ET, 04/23/2012

Can Romney make inroads with Hispanic voters?

Resurgent Republic, the conservative polling and advocacy group (from which recently hired Mitt Romney adviser Ed Gillespie hails), is out with an interesting report on focus groups of Hispanic voters in Albuquerque and Las Vegas. These people voted for President Obama in 2008 but are now undecided. The key findings are as follows:

These qualitative findings further dispel the myth of the Hispanic community being a monolithic voting bloc. The top priority for both the Spanish-preferred and the English-Bilingual respondents is the direction of the economy and improving their own financial security. The Spanish-preferred voters also hold a more unfavorable impression of the Republican brand. The English-Bilingual respondents share views similar to mainstream, middle-class swing voters interviewed by Resurgent Republic in separate focus groups. They are more likely to view their Hispanic culture as ethnicity, not immigrant status, and favor enforcement as part of immigration reform.
Additional key findings include:
•The top priority of Hispanic swing voters is the economy and these voters talk about a variety of financial ills in personal terms.
•While the Republican brand is viewed unfavorably among these Hispanics, President Obama’s image is tarnished due to an anemic economy and failure to pass immigration reform.
•These voters believe the nation’s immigration laws should reflect values of opportunity, hard work, and allow immigrants to achieve the American Dream.
•These voters are open to conservative education reforms, like school choice, greater accountability and increased parental involvement, but also favor measures like the DREAM Act.

As to Obama, “Both the Spanish-preferred and English-Bilingual respondents express concern that President Obama did not keep his 2008 campaign promise to press for immigration reform, especially during the first two years of his presidency when Democrats controlled Congress. Some feel ‘betrayed’ by Obama and wonder if they can ‘trust him again.’ Moreover, respondents are somewhat mystified that the President made health care reform his top priority after emphatically promising during his campaign to strongly promote an immigration bill within his first year in office.” They also give Obama weak marks on leadership, with some calling him “wishy-washy.”

This is not, however, a feel-good message for Republicans:

Despite being viewed as sharing some important beliefs (pro-business, pro-jobs, low taxes, small government, and a strong military), the Republican Party is not seen as representing the best interests of the Hispanic community. Overall, the Republican brand is perceived unfavorably and described as a party “for the rich,” “out of touch with ‘our’ community” and “not sharing ‘our’ values.” Respondents feel Republicans, while conservative, lack compassion, are often too conservative, and are to blame for blocking President Obama’s priorities. Hispanic voters do give Republicans credit for sticking to their beliefs, though.

On immigration reform they don’t follow the predominant GOP view:

Similar to our previous polling among Hispanic voters, the majority of respondents in both groups favor immigration reform that leads to legal status or citizenship. Most notably among the Spanish-preferred respondents, they clearly differentiate between individuals who follow the rules but fail to have the correct documentation and others who blatantly participate in criminal activity. All respondents feel that enforcement alone has not worked. Instead they suggest a combination of enforcement and earned citizenship, especially among the English-Bilingual voters.

What do we think the Romney team might extract from this? For starters, prepare to hear a lot about Obama’s broken promise on immigration reform. However, I have a hard time believing that in the absence of an affirmation plan of his own Romney can get much mileage out of this.

Certainly, the Romney team will continue to stress the economy and its impact on Hispanic voters. (Like it has been for most segments of Obama’s 2008 coalition, including recent college grads, the economy has been generally rotten for Hispanic voters.) And he can stress agenda items, such as school choice, that Obama has opposed (e.g., the D.C. voucher program).

But that still leaves Romney with a position on immigration reform that is largely unacceptable to many Hispanic voters. He can’tsuddenly come up with a “path to citizenship” for the millions of illegal immigrants who are here without losing a bloc of his conservative voters and reviving the flip-flop charge.

Immigration exclusionists would prefer he do nothing and concede defeat in the Hispanic community. However, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seems to be suggesting, movement on a limited number of fronts, would be better than nothing. (“Though still in the drafting phase, outlines of Rubio’s legislation are coming into focus. Critically, it would give the estimated 1.1 million people brought to this country as children — making them illegal through no fault of their own — the ability to stay without fear of deportation. Those serving honorably in the military would be eligible for green cards; those who complete an education would get temporary, renewable legal status enabling them to work, drive and live normal lives.”) That won’t please those who want citizenship for the vast majority of illegal immigrants already here, but it is a positive and much-needed step away, I would argue, from a “border-enforcement-only” approach.

Romney has already talked about the need to offer green cards to foreign students who obtain advanced degrees. He opposed the original DREAM Act, but a modified DREAM Act of the type Rubio may present could insulate him from the flip-flop charge. These aren’t huge steps, but it’s not like Obama has done much more — other than grandstand and blame Republicans.

By  |  01:04 PM ET, 04/23/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Immigration

 
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