Obama’s revamped image among Hispanics should worry the GOP, big time

February 21, 2013

Even as Republicans have joined the push for comprehensive immigration reform, a major obstacle stands between the party and winning new support from Hispanics: President Obama.

A new Pew Research Center/USA Today survey released Thursday shows that more than seven in 10 Hispanics approve of the job the president is doing overall, and more than six in 10 Hispanics approve of Obama's handling of immigration. Both numbers represent sharp turnarounds from 2011, and both are problems for the Republican Party.

Why? The simple answer is that politics does not take place in a vacuum. Republicans are trying hard to rehabilitate their image among Hispanics following a cycle in which the president took 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. But convincing Hispanics to support the Republican Party means also convincing them against supporting the Democratic Party. And right now, they really like the leader of the Democratic Party.

It wasn't too long ago that Hispanics held both the overall job Obama was doing as well as his handling of immigration in much lower regard than they do now. As the following chart shows, just 28 percent of Hispanics approved of the way Obama was approaching immigration in a November 2011 survey. That number is now 63 percent:

The president's overall job approval rating among Hispanics was below 50 percent in late 2011, as the next chart shows. That number has increased sharply since that time:

What's happened since 2011? The president signed an executive order in the summer of 2012 -- notably, right in the middle of a reelection year -- blocking the deportation of certain young illegal immigrants. And lately, he's been pushing a bipartisan group of senators to reach an agreement on comprehensive reform, and will prepare his own plan, should Congress fall short.

As we've written in this space before, the GOP's struggle to attract Hispanic voters has to do with more than a disagreement over immigration policy. There are deeper philosophical differences, too, that have aligned many Hispanic voters with the Democratic Party's message.

In 2016, the Republican presidential nominee won't be running against Obama. This much we know. But what we also know is that person will be taking on a party that, at least four years prior, had major momentum among Hispanics, who represent a growing share of the electorate.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake | February 21, 2013