By Gabriel Debenedetti
A new bipartisan survey shows that, despite Republicans’ Donald Trump-driven focus on illegal immigration, up to 63 percent of Hispanics could be persuaded to support a GOP candidate – a finding that could give encouragement to Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, and a be a warning sign to Hillary Clinton.
“Republicans have the ability to fight. That’s the loudest message from this study, that both parties have the possibility to get these voters,” said Democratic pollster David Binder, the founder of David Binder Research who also works with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the White House. “It is at their peril that [Democrats] assume Hispanics will vote for the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.”
Binder’s firm joined with Moore Information — run by Bob Moore, who also works with the Jeb Bush campaign — to survey Latino voters across the country, as well as to run bilingual focus groups in Los Angeles and Miami, for Univision. The full results will be released later on Wednesday.
The survey highlighted Democrats’ built-in advantages among the fast-growing population: while roughly a third of the respondents identified as strong Democrats, just 8 percent said they were strong Republicans.
But 55 percent fell somewhere in the middle, and more than six in 10 of that group’s Republican-leaners said they had previously voted for a Democrat for the House or a higher office. Meanwhile 41 percent of the persuadable Democrat-leaners said they had voted for a Republican, indicating a willingness to break from party lines.
Those findings could be music to the ears of establishment Republicans who have tried to emphasize the necessity of reaching out to Latino voters ever since failed nominee Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of that population in 2012. Many of those party members have worried that the current front-runner’s policy stances, like building a wall between the United States and Mexico, would seriously hinder those efforts.
Trump’s continued presence in the race does complicate Republicans’ standing with Hispanics, Moore said, but those problems may not carry over to a non-Trump nominee, despite Democrats’ best efforts to tie the GOP to the real estate mogul.
“[Trump] is espousing views that are not popular with the Hispanic voting population. To the extent that he is viewed as the Republican in the race, it’s going to be a problem for Hispanic voters. In the long run in the general election, if Republicans are all about Trump, it’s a problem,” said Moore. “But there’s nothing to indicate at this point that Hispanic voters see that. Looking at the other Republican candidates, they have a whole other view.”
“Both Rubio and Bush are in a much stronger position than Trump not only on immigration, but all issues with Hispanic voters,” he added, pointing to the survey’s results that show Trump with a 63 percent unfavorable rating among Hispanic voters, compared to Rubio’s 28 percent and Bush’s 42 percent. “Almost any other Republican will do better than Trump.”
Accordingly, it is precisely those other issues that could be the key to appealing to persuadable Latino voters — 35 percent of who are first-generation Americans, and 41 percent of who have completed college or more — the survey suggests.
The poll looked at 2,860 registered Hispanic voters between the ages of 18 and 54 who had watched at least one hour of Univision, UniMas, Univision Deportes, or Galavision in the last week.
“Economy/jobs” was the top issue among persuadable voters. Healthcare, education, and national security came next for the Hispanic respondents, before immigration reform — which was ranked as the fifth-most important issue for persuadable Hispanic voters.
And, since 84 percent of the persuadable voters said they are bilingual, using Spanish to reach them — as both Bush and Rubio do on the campaign trail — is a promising tactic, the pollsters said.
“There are a lot of assumptions that voters who are Hispanic only need to be reached in English because if they’re voting, they’re assimilated to the point where English is their assumed language,” said Binder. “What we found in this study is that there are a lot of bilingual Hispanic voters who pay a little more attention when campaigns are reaching out to them both in Spanish and in English.”
“Reaching out in Spanish is important regardless of the district,” added Moore. “It’s more about, ‘You really care about me.’ It shows a sensitivity, and a lot of the battle in getting people to vote for you is relatability.”