Skip to main content

GOP, don't give up on attracting Latino support

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
October 3, 2013 -- Updated 1546 GMT (2346 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A survey shows that Hispanics connect more with Democrats than Republicans
  • Ruben Navarrette: Republicans mustn't give up on attracting Latino support
  • He says most Latinos support Obamacare, so shutdown is a disservice to GOP
  • Navarrette: If Republican candidates pursue Latino voters, they can win them over

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- In describing one's relationship status, Facebook offers the option: "It's complicated."

This sums up the relationship between Hispanic voters and the political parties.

On the one hand, Hispanics are overwhelmingly more likely to connect with Democrats than with Republicans -- by nearly a 3-to-1 margin. A new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit Washington-based research group, found that 56% of registered Hispanic voters identified with Democrats, 19% identified with Republicans, and 19% with Independents.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

In the survey, more than 6 in 10 Hispanics said they felt close to the Democratic Party, while only 3 in 10 said that about the Republican Party. When Hispanics were asked to describe the parties, 48% of the responses about Republicans were negative words like "intolerant" or "out of touch," while just 22% of the responses about Democrats were negative.

In the 20th century, the Democratic Party was home to working-class ethnic groups (Polish, Irish, Italian, etc.) who saw Republicans as the party of the rich. Today, it is the go-to place for Latinos who feel picked on by the GOP.

Yet for Republicans, all is not lost.

Hispanic voters have demonstrated they can think for themselves. When choosing candidates, they will often put the person before the party. And so they've been known to throw their support behind Republicans who take moderate stances on immigration and eschew the GOP's tendency to turn the already contentious debate into an ugly culture war where immigrants are often portrayed as inferior to the native-born.

It worked for President Ronald Reagan and former Sen. John Tower of Texas, both of whom took Hispanic outreach seriously and invested the resources to attract Hispanic support. Other Republicans who, at various times in their careers, earned substantial Latino support -- i.e., more than 30% of the vote -- include Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and, of course, former President George W. Bush.

Most Latinos don't change their political affiliation. They're notoriously brand loyal. Even when they flirt with a Republican candidate, they go home to the Democratic Party.

President Obama got an impressive 71% of the Latino vote in the 2012 election. But even that part of the story is complicated. In August, a Gallup Poll found that -- when one looks at Obama's job approval rating -- there is a huge swing, among Latinos, from one quarter to the next.

Obama's support among Latinos is a mile wide and an inch deep. One thing you hear a lot of in Latino circles is that many of these voters, in picking Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, chose the "lesser of two evils."

In a recent interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Romney said the biggest strategic error of his campaign was "not investing sufficiently, particularly in Hispanic TV and Hispanic outreach to help Hispanic voters understand that ours is the party of opportunity." He also insisted that his message didn't get out. "I think my position and the position of our party is not well understood at the Hispanic community," Romney said.

I think Hispanics understood what Romney was selling. They just weren't buying. Be that as it may, now that Romney is not in the picture, many Latinos are not shy about expressing their view that Obama hasn't been in their corner, and nor are they on his radar.

Latino voters can really shake things up if the Republican candidate is smart about pursuing them. According to polls, the number of Latinos who identify themselves as being on the far left is quite small. In an August 2012 survey, the Pew Hispanic Center found that only 30% of Hispanics consider themselves "liberal" while 63% chose either "moderate" or "conservative."

Yet, one area where neither party has been very smart is with regard to the critical issue of immigration. One reason that Latinos are increasingly ambivalent about Obama and the Democrats is that, under this administration, the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants is on track to reach 2 million in 2014. Meanwhile, many Republicans remain stubbornly opposed to giving the undocumented an earned pathway to legal status and pander to nativists by stirring up anxiety over the country's changing demographics.

It's true that Latinos care about other issues more than immigration. In fact, the top three issues of concern for Latino voters are usually jobs/the economy, education and health care. But immigration is also a defining issue, a litmus test that tells them whether they can trust a given candidate or a party to deal with them fairly and honestly when it comes to other issues.

Those issues now include the government shutdown over Obamacare. Although both parties are very clearly at fault, polls show that most of the blame for this debacle is going to Republicans. A majority of Latinos support Obamacare, so they're not going to look fondly on the GOP for gumming up the works to protest a program that Latinos support anyway. It's a little early to tell what the fallout will be but it might be that the shutdown only serves to further tarnish the Republican brand in the Latino community.

The GOP was already in a hole with Latino voters, and it may have just gotten a little deeper. Still, it's also entirely possible that Latinos will wind up doing on the shutdown what they're doing on the stalemate over immigration reform and spread the blame to both parties.

No matter how daunting the challenge, Republicans mustn't give up on attracting Latino support. Stranger things have happened. But they need to change their game plan, holster the intolerance, and start approaching those voters with something that they're not getting much of from either party: honesty and respect.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT