Republicans need to dramatically improve their standing with Latino voters or risk becoming a “regional party” of disaffected whites, according to a study released Wednesday by a GOP pollster.
“Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters,” Resurgent Republic pollster Whit Ayres and the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network’s Jennifer Korn concluded in a memo detailing the results of the study.
Resurgent Republic surveyed Latino voters in four states — New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida — and concluded that the GOP brand was on life support. Respondents said Republicans did not respect their community’s values and concerns by a 51-44 margin in Florida, 54-40 in New Mexico, 59-35 in Nevada, and 63-30 in Colorado. By contrast Democrats were seen as respectful by a dominant 67-28 spread in Florida, 72- 23 percent in both New Mexico and Nevada, and 76-20 in Colorado.
“If Republicans achieve 40 percent or more of Hispanics nationally, they can elect conservative Republicans to national office,” the memo authors wrote. “Settling for a quarter or less of the Hispanic vote nationally will relegate Republicans to a regional party with few national prospects.”
In past elections, Republicans were able to offset losses with minorities by running up the score with whites. But Ayres and Korn noted that Romney “won a landslide among white voters,” dominating Obama 59-39 and winning majorities of every subset, from women to Catholics to young people. Thanks to Obama’s dominant performance with Latinos, Asians, and African Americans, the president was nonetheless re-elected by a comfortable margin.
In a conference call with reporters, Ayres dismissed suggestions from Republican pundits like the New York Times’ Ross Douthat that moderating on immigration might cause whites to abandon the GOP. He cited George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, in which the party reached its high water mark with Latino voters in exit polls while also turning out white evangelicals at high rates, as a model.
“It is not a mutually exclusive endeavor in the hands of a gifted candidate,” Ayres told TPM.
The good news for Republicans, Ayres said, is that the party has some clear paths to improve their performance. He recommended a combination of immigration reform paired with a better and more extensive outreach campaign designed to slowly rebuild the party’s standing over several elections. Winning the majority of Hispanic voters anytime soon isn’t realistic, but a reasonable goal might be winning just Hispanic conservatives — usually around 40-45 percent of the electorate in the states surveyed.
Another ray of light is Republican success in recruiting more Hispanic candidates. While it didn’t rescue them from defeat in 2012, Ayres argued that it shouldn’t be viewed as a sideshow either. He pointed out that the GOP brand was stronger in Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada, than in Colorado, where as many as 87 percent of Latino voters went for Obama. The difference? Florida has Sen. Marco Rubio (and a more conservative Cuban population) and New Mexico and Nevada have popular Republican governors of Latino descent in Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval. By contrast, Colorado’s “de facto” Republican nominee for governor in 2010 was anti-immigrant third party candidate Tom Tancredo.
“Campaigns matter and candidates matter and we see the effects of those leaders,” Ayers said.