As one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the country (behind Asian Americans) and a rapidly increasing share of the electorate, Hispanic Americans are a becoming a crucial demographic for both political parties. In recent elections, Hispanics have strongly preferred Democratic candidates. Senator John McCain received just 31 percent of Hispanic voters’ support and, most recently, former Governor Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2012 presidential bid. However, it was not long ago that Hispanic voters demonstrated a greater willingness to support Republican candidates. In 2004, former President George W. Bush received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. The recent challenge of wooing Hispanic voters and other growing minority groups, such as Asians, has resulted in a renewed push to reach out to these communities. Yet it may prove to be a difficult task. At the 2014 annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) which took place in Maryland last week, a panel on minority outreach was poorly attended. According to Brookings’ John Hudak, the poor attendance is indicative of the larger problem facing the conservative movement and the Republican Party: for many conservative activists minority outreach is simply not a priority.
A PRRI survey conducted last year also suggests that when it comes to Hispanics, the GOP faces a branding problem. The Hispanic Values Survey found that when asked what the first word or phrase that comes to mind when thinking of the Republican Party, nearly half (48 percent) of Hispanics offer negative words or phrases, compared to just 11 percent who give positive responses and 42 percent who are neutral. More than three times as many Hispanics said the Democratic Party is better described by the phrase, “Cares about people like you,” (43 percent) than is the Republican Party (12 percent). These perceptions may explain why Hispanics are more likely to identify as Democrats (50 percent) than either independents (24 percent) or Republicans (15 percent). By a margin of more than 2-to-1, Hispanics report feeling much closer to the Democrats in recent years (63 percent) than to the Republicans (29 percent).
There is also an evident gap between Republicans and Hispanics when it comes to policy. While most Republicans oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally (62 percent), a majority of Hispanics is in favor (53 percent). Nearly 8-in-10 Hispanics agree (78 percent) that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, in contrast roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans who disagree.
One area of agreement is on comprehensive immigration reform. PRRI’s immigration research has consistently found majority support among Hispanics and Republicans for a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the country illegally. Immigration is of particular importance to a large number Hispanics, and an issue in which the Republican leadership breaks with the majority of Republicans in the United States. Many Hispanics express an unwillingness to vote for candidates who do not support comprehensive immigration reform.
The bridge between Hispanic Americans and Republicans is wide as PRRI data shows. Republican leaders need to demonstrate that their interests align with those of Hispanic Americans and a shift from the GOP leadership on immigration could be a step in that direction. Failing to capture a significant share of Hispanic votes in 2014 may not make much of a dent in the Party’s chances to keep its majority in the House of Representatives in the midterms. Yet, as it stands now, it will be hard for the GOP to win national presidential elections in 2016 and beyond without a significant share of the Hispanic vote in the near future.