Republican pollster Glen Bolger has some advice for how his party can begin the “road to recovery” with the growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
“We’ve got to stop saying and doing stupid things with Latinos,” Bolger said at a panel March 7 at American University in Washington. (Watch the event here, at C-Span’s video archive).
“People in the party say a lot of tone-deaf things and that tells Latinos that ‘we don’t want you here and we don’t like you,” he said.
“The differences in terms of rhetoric or policy are extraordinarily important, because if you have white-hot rhetoric that sounds anti-Hispanic or racist at worst, or just ill-informed at best, you’re never going to be able to go anywhere with that message,” said Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. “And we have, on the right, some white-hot rhetoric that continues to completely decimate any other type of outreach or inclusive efforts moving forward.”
For Republicans, a better showing among Hispanic voters in national elections is simply a matter of mathematical necessity.
Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election, down from 31 percent for Sen. John McCain in 2008. While Democrats are struggling with non-Hispanic white voters, their share of the electorate drops in every presidential election — to 72 percent of voters in 2012, down from 74 percent in 2008 and 77 percent in 2004. Hispanics accounted for 10 percent of the vote in 2012; black voters, who are even more overwhelmingly Democratic than Hispanics, were 13 percent of the electorate.
“We either have to adapt, or continue losing national elections,” Bolger said.
Republican strategists say the party needs to burnish its image among Hispanic voters in the Nov. 4 midterm elections, even though the electorate will be less racially and ethnically diverse than in 2012. Voter participation drops in midterm elections, and historical trends suggest President Barack Obama’s party will lose ground in Congress at the midpoint of his second term.
“The 2014 election is just not simply the 2014 election; it’s the setup for what does this party look like for 2016,” pollster David Winston said. “And how we sound in 2014 is very much going to determine what happens in 2016.”
“And so, if the Republican Party emerges from this election at 30 percent favorables,” Winston added, “it’s an albatross around our neck.”
One challenge is that most Republicans in Congress have little to no political incentive to court Hispanics because they’re not an influential voting bloc in their districts. Many Hispanics are concentrated in Democratic-friendly districts as a result of factors including population shifts, redistricting and voting-rights laws that have led to the creation of minority-majority districts. Many Republican-held districts lean so strongly to that party that the primary is more consequential than the general election. Republican congressional candidates are more concerned about appearing weak on illegal immigration in a primary than in broadening their pitches to Hispanics.
“The congressional wing of the party” has to “start caring about our performance among Hispanics,” Bolger said. “Right now they don’t because it doesn’t affect them personally. It doesn’t affect who wins a Republican primary in that district.”
The model for Republicans is former president George W. Bush, a former Texas governor who won 44 percent support from Hispanics in his 2004 re-election campaign, according to one national exit poll. (Some have disputed the percentage.)
In courting Hispanic voters, good policy matters along with the right outreach and rhetoric, and Bush attracted Hispanic voters by focusing on education, Winston said.
“That was an incredibly important issue,” Winston said. “He was able to connect with voters in a way that mattered.”
Republicans should revise immigration laws and craft a message that emphasizes the theme of equal opportunity and the issues of education and jobs, Bolger said.
A Latino Republican on the national ticket in 2016 “is the game-changer,” Sanchez said, mentioning Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico among the possibilities.
A Hispanic candidate on the 2016 ballot “is the kind of shift, optically, that will get the attention of many Latino voters who haven’t really aligned themselves with a party,” she said.