Romney's Latino Problem: Not Resolved by Hispanic VP

Mitt Romney's problems with Hispanic voters cannot be solved with by simply associating with prominent Latino political figures. Digging deeper into the numbers, it's pretty clear why.
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There's an unfortunate tendency in politics today to make assumptions about the Hispanic community as a monolithic bloc that can be won by nominating Latino candidates or having Latino leaders, elected or otherwise, endorse Anglo candidates for office. A new poll Project New America (PNA) conducted with Public Policy Polling reinforces our point by taking a look at potential Hispanic Republican vice presidential running mates. It should be noted, that this same analysis could be applied to other demographics groups in America. On Sunday, an article written in the Washington Post about women voters pointed out that women voters don't automatically vote for women candidates. And in this year's GOP primary race, we saw Catholics in many states vote in larger margins for Mitt Romney (an active Mormon) over Rick Santorum (an active Catholic).

But, let's keep our focus on Hispanic voters and their independence from identity politics. It was most pronounced in 2010, when exit polling showed that Hispanic voters supported Nevada Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid over Hispanic Republican candidate Brian Sandoval by a 64-33 margin. Although Sandoval went on to win the election in a strong Republican year, it was a strong performance among Anglo voters, not Latinos that propelled him to victory.

We saw a similar story unfold in New Mexico, where our exit polls showed a majority of Hispanic voters cast their ballots against Hispanic Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez, and for Democrat Diane Denish.

Despite this, both Sandoval and Martinez -- along with Cuban-American Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- are widely rumored to be on the short list of Republicans who might be selected as Mitt Romney's running mate to shore up fledgling national support among Latinos.

In order to gain a better sense of the effect that one of these three candidates might have on Hispanic presidential preference, PNA and PPP tested the complete Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden versus a Republican ticket consisting of Romney-Rubio in Florida, Romney-Sandoval in Nevada and a Romney-Martinez New Mexico among Hispanic voters.

In each state, the presence of the home-state Hispanic Republican has a negligible effect on Hispanic presidential preference.

In Nevada, Hispanic voters support Obama over Romney in a head-to-head matchup 66 percent to 26 percent. When asked in the very next question whether they would support an Obama-Biden ticket or a Romney-Sandoval ticket, Hispanic voters still prefer the Democrats 64 percent to 27 percent.

In New Mexico, Obama leads Romney 66 percent to 27 percent among Hispanics, and an Obama-Biden ticket bests a Romney-Martinez ticket 65 percent to 28 percent.

In Florida, Hispanic voters prefer Obama over Romney 52 percent to 44 percent, and the Obama-Biden ticket over a Romney-Rubio ticket 51 to 44.

The results confirm that Romney's problems with Hispanic voters -- he starts off with high unfavorables among Hispanics in each of these states -- cannot be solved with by simply associating with prominent Latino political figures. Digging deeper into the numbers, it's pretty clear why.

As is the case in most polls, over 50% of Hispanic voters in each of these states said the economy was the most important issue in deciding how they'll vote. Meanwhile, 53% of the said that Romney's stance on the housing crisis (that we should "[not] try and stop the foreclosure process and let it hit the bottom" made them less likely to support Romney.

While immigration was generally not one of the most important issues to Hispanic voters, 54% said Romney's statement that Arizona's immigration law represents a "model for the nation" makes them less likely to vote for him.

Given these results, it's clear that Romney's problems with Hispanic voters are rooted in policies and rhetoric that don't comport with the values of Hispanic communities. It's a problem that will take more than simply nominating a Hispanic VP to overcome.

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