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GOP tough talk on immigration turned off Hispanic voters in 2012

Polls shows GOP can make inroads with right steps


Evan Vucci / AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with President Barack Obama before the start of the third presidential debate on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla.

In a postmortem analysis of the 2012 presidential election, polling firm Latino Decisions suggested Wednesday that while President Barack Obama did extremely well among Hispanic voters, Democrats cannot be complacent about that segment of the population and Republicans have room for growth with Hispanic voters, especially if they collaborate with their colleagues across the aisle on immigration reform.

Also Wednesday, in a blog on Latino Decisions, UNLV political scientist David Damore focused in on the GOP's path forward in Nevada with Hispanic voters.

In a conference call with reporters, Stanford professor and Latino Decisions pollster Gary Segura said 2012 marked a watershed moment for the Hispanic electorate.

“For the first time in American history the Latino vote could plausibly claim to be decisive (in the presidential election),” Segura said, noting that if GOP candidate Mitt Romney had boosted his share of the Hispanic electorate from the 23 percent he got to 42 percent, he would have won the popular vote.

Segura did find positives in the date for the Republican Party. First, there are almost as many potential Hispanic voters, 11.1 million, as there are Hispanic voters who actually voted in 2012, 12.2 million. That means there are 11.1 million Hispanics who are eligible to vote, but either chose not to or are not registered, whom either party can engage.

Hispanic voters are much more flexible than white voters and black voters in between elections. Between 2004 an 2012, 17 percent of Hispanic voters switched from voting for the GOP nominee (George W. Bush) to a Democratic nominee. Meanwhile, only 4 percent of white voters switched and 3 percent of black voters.

“Latinos are the most moveable electorate,” Segura said.

While Romney was viewed much less favorably among Hispanic voters than Obama, 23 percent of those polled said the president doesn't care about the issues affecting the Hispanic community.

“There is room for Republican growth and room for seepage out of the Democratic column if (Democrats) don't take care,” Segura said.

Segura noted that a turning point for Obama appeared to be the June 15, 2012, announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed some young immigrants without a legal residency status to remain in the country and receive work permits. More than half of Hispanic voters said that move made them more enthusiastic about the president. Conversely, Romney's comments on immigrants "self-deporting" led 57 percent of Hispanic voters to say they were less enthusiastic about the former Massachusetts governor.

“The key point of Latino Decisions analysis is the votes the Republican Party has left on the table because they were following the anti-immigrant playbook of (Rep.) Lamar Smith (R - Texas) and (Rep.) Steve King (R - Iowa),” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, a Washington-based lobbying group that supports comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship.

In Nevada, the results of those two policy decisions were reflective of the national reaction among Hispanic voters. In a poll of registered Nevada Hispanic voters 61 percent said Romney's “self-deport” comment made them less enthusiastic about him as a candidate, while 61 percent of those polled said Obama's deferred action program made them more enthusiastic about the incumbent.

“First, within Nevada's Latino community there are few if any subpopulations where the Republican Party has a foothold,” Damore concludes. “Two, the GOP's policy agenda is inconsistent with the preferences of most Latino voters in the state. Third, Mitt Romney's campaign made a bad situation worse.”

Damore also agreed that a big first step for the GOP would be to engage in a constructive discussion on comprehensive immigration reform.

“Nationally, the most obvious action that the GOP can take to build goodwill would be to play a constructive role in the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” Damore wrote. “If this were done, a third of Nevada Latinos indicated that they would be more likely to vote Republican in the future.”

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