5 ways the GOP can do better with Latinos

December 12, 2012

A coalition of conservative groups is releasing a major study of Latino voters in four key states this morning, and Republicans would be wise to heed its lessons.

Resurgent Republic and the Hispanic Leadership Network are presenting the findings of their study at 9 a.m. Eastern. The polls of Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada show Republicans remain in contention for as many as half of Latino voters in those four states in 2016, but fewer than one-quarter of Latinos in each state say they are likely to vote Republican four years from now.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August. (AP)

With that in mind, below we break down five of the most important lessons for a GOP in search of those votes.

1. Improve the party brand

It seems like a given, but this actually matters more with Latinos than it does with other groups. That's because many more Latinos identify as "conservative" than as "Republicans."

In New Mexico, 47 percent of Hispanics say they're conservative, but just 28 percent say they are Republican or Republican-leaning independents. In Nevada, 40 percent are conservative, but just 22 percent have some affinity with the GOP. In Colorado, 38 percent are conservative, but 21 percent lean Republican.

In all three states, Mitt Romney got about all of the Latino Republicans, but none of the other Latino conservatives.

In other words, Republicans aren't only losing the vast majority of moderate Latinos; they are also losing lots of conservative Latinos to the Democrats. And that undoubtedly has a lot to do with the Republican brand's continued struggles.

"At the bare minimum, we should be able to get Hispanics who say they are conservative," said Resurgent Republic pollster Whit Ayres.

2. Wait for the Democrats to mess up

The fact that Republicans are losing Latinos isn't completely their fault. It's also in large part because Latinos have grown very fond of the Democratic Party.

While most recent polls show about half of all Americans giving the Democrats positive marks, at least two-thirds of Latinos in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada view the Democrats favorably, and that number is 60 percent in Florida. Those numbers all track very closely with the percentage of the vote that President Obama and the Democrats got in each state this year.

Republicans can do all they can to woo Latinos, but if Latinos continue to view Obama and the Democrats so favorably, it will be very difficult to peel away large chunks of their votes.

3. Don't assume that Latinos are socially conservative

Many Republicans think that because the vast majority of Latinos are Catholic, they're socially conservative. Well, as with other Catholics, church doctrine doesn't necessarily translate to personal practice.

In fact, the poll shows significantly more Latinos are pro-abortion rights than anti-abortion rights in Florida (49-39), Colorado (53-38) and Nevada (51-38). And on Election Day, exit polls showed 52 percent of Latinos said they supported gay marriage -- a number higher than white voters.

Much of this appears to be because the younger generation of Latinos isn't nearly as socially conservative as their parents -- and young Hispanics are a huge part of the Hispanic vote.

"As the population of Hispanics gets younger, the more liberal they are on faith issues," said Jennifer Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, which is affiliated with the American Action Network. Korn also suggested that many evangelical Hispanics simply stayed home on Election Day.

Republicans have argued that Latinos should be on board with their social agenda, but that's not really the case anymore.

4. Do immigration reform -- now -- but don't expect a cure-all

Republicans have to get on board with reforming the nation's immigration system; party leaders acknowledge this. But it's a necessary-but-hardly-sufficient part of their outreach.

Immigration is very much a threshold issue for Hispanics. The poll shows about 30 percent of Latinos in all four states say agreeing with a candidate's immigration policy is a must-have, while the rest say they could get past that issue as long as most of the other issues line up.

So unless Republicans do some kind of comprehensive immigration reform, they are writing off nearly one-third of Latinos.

At the same time, many of those voters are undoubtedly predisposed against the GOP right now, and it's not clear that many of them would jump to the GOP after immigration reform is passed.

Instead, Republicans need to do immigration reform merely to have a chance at their votes. And it couldn't hurt with the rest of Hispanics, either.

5. Don't expect Marco Rubio to solve your problems

The Florida senator is the GOP's Great Latino Hope, but he doesn't speak to all Latinos.

In fact, Rubio has a 37 percent unfavorable rating among Hispanics in his own state, compared to 49 percent favorable. And in Colorado and Nevada, his favorable ratings are only slightly higher than his unfavorable ones.

Rubio is still an important voice for the GOP, but Republicans shouldn't assume that nominating him in 2016 or putting him out front in the coming years will automatically woo Latinos. It's hardly that simple.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Sean Sullivan | December 12, 2012