What Hispanic voter record is Abbott trying to break?

By Peggy Fikac, SA Express-News

ttf-davisabbott-1_2_JPG_800x1000_q100Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is aiming to break a record when it comes to attracting the Latino vote in his race for governor against Democrat Wendy Davis.

The first order of business is figuring out which record.

A 1998 exit poll by Voter News Service put George W. Bush‘s share of the Hispanic vote at 49.5 percent when he ran for re-election in a blowout against Democrat Garry Mauro.

When asked about Abbott’s target before last weekend, his campaign had said that was the record he was trying to break for a Republican seeking Texas statewide office.

But when Abbott campaigned in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, the candidate suggested he’d set a record with a smaller percentage of the Latino vote.

“We’re aiming for 50 (percent), but I’m telling you, if I get more than 40, it’s our understanding that that would set the record,” said Abbott.

In his quest, he has declared he has a chance to win even the predominantly Democratic and Hispanic Rio Grande Valley, although experts and Democrats say that’s beyond a long shot.

The number to break statewide for a Republican candidate for a Texas statewide office depends on the figure one accepts as accurate.

There were conflicting estimates of Bush’s percentage of the Latino vote in that 1998 election. Although Voter News Service put the tally at 49.5 percent, the William C. Velásquez Institute put Bush’s share of the Hispanic vote at 39 percent.

The two exit polls surveyed different areas, with the Velásquez Institute looking at predominantly Hispanic precincts and Voter News Service including Hispanics in predominantly Anglo precincts.

That means Hispanics who were more likely to vote Democratic were underrepresented in the Voter News Service exit poll, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

Voter News Service also asked the question about ethnicity two ways, first asking respondents if they considered themselves white, African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic, then giving those who chose “white” another chance to express their ethnicity as Latino or Hispanic in order to take into account those who viewed themselves that way, Jones said.

Including all who considered themselves Latino or Hispanic in either question yielded the 49.5 percent tally, he said.

According to an Associated Press story at the time, the Voter News Service poll surveyed 1,256 voters around Texas, including 208 Hispanics. The margin of error for the Hispanic tally was plus or minus 9 percentage points.

The Velásquez Institute, by contrast, surveyed 380 Hispanics who lived in 24 precincts in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, looking at areas that were heavily Hispanic, according to the AP story. The margin of error for Hispanics was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

An official with Voter News Service said at the time that the Velasquez Institute didn’t capture Latinos living in districts that were mostly white and more likely to vote for the Republican candidate.

Jones said he is “reasonably confident” that Bush’s support was between 46 percent and 49.5 percent in that election.

The Houston Chronicle did a study of election returns using redistricting data and reported in 1999 that Bush got at least 39 percent of the Hispanic vote and likely exceeded 40 percent “with ease.”

Gov. Rick Perry, by contrast, got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote against Democratic nominee Bill White in 2010, Jones said.


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