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The GOP’s Latino dilemma

For a sense of why immigration reform is such a tough question for the GOP, look no further than to new Gallup data released Monday showing that while Hispanics tilt more Democratic than Republican, the GOP has greater potential to win the support of younger Hispanics than older ones.

The findings bolster the political argument in some GOP quarters that tackling immigration reform simply isn't going to help the Republican Party at the ballot box right now, because Hispanic voters have already opted to align with the opposing party. But the data also show that Republicans have an opportunity to build inroads for the future with the substantial population of younger Hispanics who are more receptive to their message than older Hispanics.

The findings, which come from daily tracking data from from June 3-27, show that across all age groups, Hispanics lean more toward the Democratic Party than the GOP. Overall, the newly released poll data are consistent with data from the Pew Hispanic Center released last fall that showed a gap between some pillars of the Republican platform and the over-arching worldview of Hispanics.

The data also show that support for the Democratic Party is stronger among Hispanics above 50 than it is among Hispanics under 49. Forty-five percent of Hispanics between 18 and 29 either identify as independent or lean toward the GOP. That number is 44 percent among Hispanics between 30 and 49. It drops to 36 percent among Hispanics between 50 and 64, and down to 33 percent among Hispanics over 65.

As we've noted in this space, overhauling immigration law is not a cure-all for the GOP. Hispanics are not single-minded in their policy focus. But not tackling reform is not going to do any favors for a GOP already struggling for a positive image in most of the Hispanic community.

And it could also mean squandering an opportunity for the future. The Gallup data show that courting young Hispanics is not a lost cause for Republicans. Is it an uphill climb? Absolutely. But impossible? No. And we ware talking about a youthful group that will be voting in elections for years and in many cases decades to come.

The flip side, of course, is the reality that Hispanics are more closely aligned with the Democratic Party right now. And Republicans who don't feel the political urgency to do reform (or outright oppose such efforts) could point to the very same numbers as a reason for why rushing ahead isn't going to fix the party's political problems.

It's important to note that Gallup polling data are of adults, a wider slice of the public than voters. In addition, other data have suggested that that among Latinos, voter turnout lags behind other cross sections of the electorate. So there are other variables in debate about the Hispanic vote.

Still, the Gallup data raise important present-versus-future and potential-versus-actual questions for Republicans when it comes to tackling immigration. And don't expect very much consensus in the answers.


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