Republicans who have warned for years that their party needs to do a better job reaching out to Hispanic voters are finding a lot to smile about this month: according to the latest Gallup poll, Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics is at 50 percent, eight points lower than it was in late October, after the government shutdown. A recent poll of Hispanic voters in Colorado showing a modest decline in opinion on the Affordable Care Act has Republicans hoping they can exploit Healthcare.gov’s botched rollout to their advantage with Hispanic millennials. In Texas, conservatives are trying to reach Latino voters with an appeal rooted in the party’s anti-abortion stance. Chris Christie’s strong showing in his reelection campaign last week is reminding them that Latino voters can be won.
Republicans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Christie won 51 percent of Hispanic voters in a campaign where he was already outperforming his Democratic opponent among almost every demographic, even winning 32 percent of Democrats. It wasn’t for nothing: Christie spent over a million dollars on TV ads, invested in Spanish-language radio and direct mail, and softened his stance on allowing in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants just before the election. Last month, the Republican National Committee announced they, too, would be building outreach teams in 18 states that could help warm voters to a candidate like Christie in 2016.
The only problem is that Christie would first have to get past a primary. And conservatives have already declared his centrism on some of the same issues that would appeal to Hispanic voters to be intolerable.
That gets to another hurdle Republicans face in trying to reach Hispanic voters in 2016—there will be no way to silence GOP voices that completely oppose the stances the party must take in order to draw in Hispanic voters. Eighty percent of Hispanic voters say undocumented immigrants should be able to stay in the country if they haven’t broken any laws, but that won’t deter presidential candidate Ted Cruz from decrying amnesty for illegal aliens, and his Tea Party fans from loudly agreeing. The same is true for health care. In September, 61 percent of Hispanic voters supported the Affordable Care Act. The most recent polling, which shows a minor decline in Hispanic voter perception of the law, sampled only 300 voters in Colorado. And Republicans haven’t offered a better option for the 10 million uninsured Hispanics who might benefit from the law.
“They don’t gain anything from pointing out that a website doesn’t work,” says Sylvia Manzano, a senior analyst at Latino Decisions. “That’s not a policy advantage for them.”
In Texas, Republicans are hoping they can reach out to Hispanic voters by focusing on the party’s anti-abortion stance. But polling from Latino Decisions shows 38 percent of voters are pro-choice. And more than half say their religion does not influence their vote. Seventy-five percent say politics is about economic issues. Both demographics most affected by abortion policy—young uninsured people and women—are more likely to support Democrats.
“I’m deeply skeptical that a simple focus on divisive abortion politics will gain Latino and Latina voters. First of all, an outdated ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ approach is far too limited to convey the real opinions of our community,” says Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “[T]hey’re also deeply concerned about whether they’re going to be able to afford their yearly mammogram or whether they will have to choose between birth control or food that month.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, says “Republicans can be competitive—they just can’t be competitive on the cheap. They’ll say its just a matter of tone but it’s not. It’s a matter of policy, outreach, respect and a matter of showing up. Not six months out from an election, saying, ‘Let’s hire mariachi bands for Latinos,’ which is the normal m.o. for most Republican candidates. That will not pass the laugh test.”