By Alex Gonzalez
The new 6-pages study by Lesley Sanchez and Haley Barbour looks into where Latinos really stand in swing states. Resurgent Republic is out with results from their focus groups held in New Mexico and Nevada, split between Spanish-preferred (first or second generation) and English-preferred/Bilingual groups (primarily third or fourth generation). The Republican-tied group found that the economy is the top priority to many Latinos, although they aren’t happy with Obama on immigration, and they want improved results in education.
Additional findings: “While the Republican brand is viewed unfavorably among these Hispanics, President Obama’s image is tarnished due to an anemic economy and failure to pass immigration reform. These voters believe that the nation’s immigration laws should reflect values of opportunity, hard work, and allow immigrants to achieve the American Dream. Moreover, these voters are open to conservative education reforms, like school choice, greater accountability and increased parental involvement, but also favor measures like the DREAM Act.
Among one most obvious “findings” in the focus group by Ms. Sanchez and Gov. Barbour is that Latinos are disillusioned as they believe that Obama failed them. Also, 20 to 30 percent of independent “swing” Latino voters lean Democrat, but do not have a strong affiliation. Moreover, these swing voters are also worried about the dismal economic direction of the country, which can be an opportunity for Conservatives candidates. Essentially, Sanchez and Barbour argue that if Republican candidates in swing states can pen down an economic message and avoid talking about immigration, Latinos who are still hurting because of the failed Obama’s economic policies, can turn around and vote for conservative candidates, even if they lean Democrat. As a result, these “qualitative Key findings” dispel any myth that Latinos are a monolithic voting bloc. However, this idea and can also be detrimental for the Republican Party that often claims that Latinos are a natural social conservative bloc.
Unfortunately, in attempting to demonstrate that Latinos are not a monolith bloc by assuming that they can vote Republican if they stick to economic issues only—and avoid addressing the issue immigration and education—we are also running the risk on breaking the social “myth” of a conservative bloc that Latinos adhere to. Specifically, Republicans like to preach that Latinos are a natural constituency because they are socially conservative on abortion, gay marriage, and family values. These values are derived from the traditionally Catholic upbringing. Therefore, to pretend that Latinos are not monoliths and thus can be won over merely on the economy approach only reinforces the idea that Republicans need to talk only about economies. So Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Barbour are also dispelling the myth that Latinos are not a strong social conservative monolith bloc either with this approach, because, this approach suggest Latino don’t care about social values, or family unity, and immigration; which is wishful thinking
For example, in California, although 70 % of Latinos are registered as Democrat, 52% of Latinos voted from prop 8 to stop the legalization of gay marriage in the state. In this instance, a share of Latino Democrats also value their conservative views irrespective of economic issues. Will Republicans, then, start to preach that Latinos are not a monolith bloc on social issues? How about immigration? When 87% of Latino agree that a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is necessary; and this is a monolith view across party lines among Latinos. Thus, presuming that we can “patch things” between Latinos and Republicans with only economic platforms is a false argument. And this is a monolith view across party lines among Latinos.
Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Barbour would have made a better argument about the myth of the Hispanic monolith bloc if they would have argue that Latinos are like any other group of white voters, and that is that Latinos are influenced by the political environment of the state they reside in. For example, 54% of Latinos in Texas self-identify themselves as conservatives. As such, conservative Latinos in Texas often too worry about the same policies that Latino democrats worry about, such education, jobs, and immigration. Yet, when it comes to social issues, Latino democrats in California have similar views to their conservative fellows in Texas or Florida. So there is indeed a monolith bloc of Latinos on social issues and immigration, but they differ on issues because of the political environment found in their respective State.
Also, it could be that Lesley Sanchez and Mr. Hayley are right that Latinos are not monolith. Latinos in New York are not the same than Latino in Texas or California. Thus, their pressing issues are different. Moreover, Latinos do not have emotional affinity towards the Latino/Hispanic as politicians presume. For example, a Pew Hispanic Report suggests that Hispanic adults finds that these terms still haven’t been fully embraced by Hispanics themselves. A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin; just 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label. Therefore, Latinos in Western states, and Texas, pay attention to issue important to Mexican- Americans than just a “pan-Latino label”. Similarly, Latino in New York want issues important to Puerto Ricans addressed. Or, Latinos in Florida want their issues connected to the issue of Cuba. So the notion that Mexican-Americans in western states will rally behind issues important to Puerto Ricans in New York or Cubans in Miami is illusive. Consequently, a the idea that all “Latinos” will be wooed to the GOP by mere talks on the economy is equally elusive. so in this sense, Latino are not monolith either.
Further, the “focus groups” were conducted in New Mexico and Las Vegas, both swing states. But we already knew that Latinos in New Mexico are center right voters because for 8 years Latinos voted for Democrat Bill Richardson, a Mexican-American. But in 2010, 40% of Latino in the state voted for another Latina, Republican Susana Martinez, for Governor over an Anglo Democrat. However, in New Mexico, most Republicans have never made immigration a campaign issues, and, therefore, they have been able to woo Latinos. Moreover , the popularity of Martinez in the New Mexico is strong because she has worked with Democrats to reform education, cut corruption and waste, but has avoided harsh immigration rhetoric.
While Republicans would like to play down the immigration issues, and will continue to hire conservative PR “focus groups” to promote the “idea” that Latinos may vote Republican if the focus is on economics alone, it is a dangerous route for the future of the GOP. This is a false premise for an argument that could jeopardize embracing more Latinos into the party. Republicans need stop wasting their money on PR focus groups that only reinforce an “economic only” approach. Politics is about passions, and Latinos are passionate about their issues—immigration, education, God, family, and country. That indeed is a monolith view, not a myth. What we need a George W. Bush “compassionate” approach with Latino. And Lesley Sanchez should to know that, she is from Texas.