Politics & Policy

Will 2016 Be the Year Republicans Finally Make an Appeal to Hispanics?

For all the speculation in Washington about the possibility that Democrats have a lock on the Latino vote, the data suggests they’re nowhere close. According to the latest polling from MSNBC and Telemundo, 35 percent of Latinos in the U.S. consider themselves conservative, 39 percent say they are moderate, and only 27 percent say they are liberal. Pew and other researchers have asked this same question and gotten similar results. Many Latinos, in other words, certainly seem like they’d be open at election time to candidates with conservative values.

This shouldn’t be particularly surprising to anyone who has spent much time with Americans whose families come from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or various other Latin American countries. Many Latinos raise their kids with a strong understanding of the importance of self-reliance and hard work. We favor freedom and opportunity. Faith is central to our lives. We are as likely as any American to worry about wasteful government spending and the impact high debt and taxes will have on future generations. In many ways, we remain a community that stresses conservative principles – and many reject the liberal label. 

But despite the fact that Latinos seem like they should be open to arguments from center-right candidates, just 16 percent say they are Republicans.

When barely one out of four Latinos call themselves liberals, but nearly half identify as Democrats, it should be a serious wake-up call for the GOP — something must have gone wrong in their efforts to attract an otherwise receptive audience. But this also represents an opportunity. 

If Republican candidates are committed to engaging Latinos, there’s every reason to believe they can win converts among those who are already predisposed to embrace their message.

Indeed, when Republicans nominate candidates who understand the priorities of Latinos and make a concerted effort to show that their policy remedies are aligned with Latino aspirations and appeal directly to our community, they have real success.

While many Latino voters have been skeptical of the Republican party, good candidates have been able to overcome that mistrust.

Senator Cory Gardner earned half of the Latino vote in Colorado in 2014. Texas governor Greg Abbott and senator John Cornyn both garnered impressive support in the Hispanic community this past cycle, too. Even Republicans in Kansas and Georgia saw their level of Hispanic support in the mid 40s. And both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — conservatives who prioritized outreach to Hispanics — did significantly better than other GOP candidates. Exit polls show Bush secured as much as 44 percent support among Latinos — a high-water mark for Republicans in the last 40 years.

While many Latino voters have been skeptical of the Republican party, good candidates have been able to overcome that mistrust. By demonstrating that they have clear plans and policies that address the concerns of our families — and by showing that they respect Latinos and take our community seriously — they have earned stronger support.

This challenge and opportunity are front and center again as Republican presidential contenders have begun to announce their plans for 2016. Candidates such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and others have already shown a knack for reaching out to Latinos in their own states.

#related#Despite all the happy talk in Washington about turning the corner, millions of working Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck. They are worried about scarce jobs, underperforming schools, and they want to see difficult challenges such as immigration addressed in a bipartisan way — not just with temporary, piecemeal presidential orders. They know America can do better, and has done better. They’re looking for candidates who can deliver based on strong leadership.

Whoever the Republican presidential candidate is, he (or she) should recognize that there could be more support for the party among Latinos — but only if they are willing to put in the hard work to win it.

This will take a personal commitment: hiring staff from our community, presenting an inclusive message, and meeting us directly in our communities. With a real effort, 2016 Republicans have an opportunity to do better than they have in the past, and persuade skeptical conservatives – who share the same ideas for a better and freer society — to stand with them.

— Daniel Garza is executive director of the LIBRE Initiative.

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