Arizona Sen. John McCain got some bad news last week: Despite having a big Cinco de Mayo party this year and putting up a Spanish-language Web site, he’s failing to win over the hearts and minds of Hispanic voters.
Latinos are breaking for Barack Obama in a big way. About two thirds say they favor Obama, while less than one in four likes McCain, according to a June survey by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Given that states with big Hispanic populations—such as New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Nevada—will be swing states in November, the failure to attract Latino support could pose big problems for McCain.
McCain’s problems reflect a larger problem for Republicans: Latino voters are embracing the Democratic Party. A growing number—65 percent—say they lean Democratic, while just 26 percent say they lean Republican.
“This 39 percentage point Democratic Party identification edge is larger than it has been at any time this decade; as recently as 2006, the partisan gap was just 21 percentage points,” the Pew study notes.
The growing spread comes despite efforts of Republican strategists to reach out to Latinos, who represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, accounting for 15 percent of the general population and 9 percent of the electorate, according to Pew.
But the GOP’s pitch as the party that stands up for hard-working small-business types with solid family values has been thoroughly drowned out by activists on the right who have torpedoed recent efforts at immigration reform.
In the early years of this decade, Republicans were successful in attracting Latino voters. A Pew analysis shows that in 1999, Latinos were firmly in the Democratic camp, with 58 percent identifying with Democrats and just one in four identifying with Republicans—a difference of 33 percentage points. By 2004, when Bush won an estimated 40 to 44 percent of the Latino vote in his re-election campaign (a high-water mark for a GOP presidential candidate), the gap had narrowed to 28 percentage points. In July 2006, the gap had closed to 21 percentage points, with less than half of Latinos identifying with the Democratic Party.
The Pew study included more bad news for Republicans: 55 percent of Latino voters say Democrats have more concern for their ethnic group, while just 6 percent say that Republicans have more concern for them.
Why are Latinos disenchanted with the GOP? One major issue: immigration. When the U.S. Senate tried to enact a comprehensive immigration reform last year, the deal was scuttled by fiery opposition a conservative Republican base upset by the idea of a path to normalization for undocumented workers now in the United States.
While the GOP base may decry “amnesty” proposals, Latinos have a vastly different view. The National Latino Survey, a in-depth poll of 8,600 Latinos taken in between November 2005 and August 2006, showed that more than 42 percent favored immediate legalization of undocumented immigrants now in the United States, while more than 31 percent supported a guest worker program leading to legalization. Only 5 percent supported an effort to seal the border to stop illegal immigration.
Until last year, McCain held a liberal position on illegal immigration, going so far as to sponsor a comprehensive reform plan with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2006 that included a path to citizenship for workers who had entered the United States illegally. But as he moved rightward to court conservative in his pursuit of the White House, McCain was absent from last summer’s immigration-reform talks and has since insisted that the border must be secured—whatever that means—before Congress can resolve the question of what should happen to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
John Garcia, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona, says McCain has another major liability: His support for the Iraq war. Pew released a study in early 2007 that showed that two-thirds of Latinos believed U.S. troops should return from Iraq as soon as possible. That was a significantly higher percentage than the 50 percent of the general population who said they wanted troops withdrawn as soon as possible in a separate Pew study done at the same time.