What 2014 Taught Us

By Matt A. Barreto and Gary M. Segura

Results from Latino Decisions' election eve poll are out. So are the media's national exit polls. And, of course, in almost every state and district we now have the final election returns.

What did we learn from the 2014 midterms? Herewith, LD's bullet-pointed list of the 8 major takeaways from our 2014 election eve poll, results of which you can find here, with relevant questions cited below in parentheses (e.g., Q6 means question #6):

Lesson #1: Immigration is nascent issue for Latino voters.
At some point during the past two years, immigration eclipsed the economy as the biggest motivating issue for Latino voters, at 45 percent (Q1). Perhaps matters will return to form and the economy, rated first by 34 percent of Latinos this year, will again be the top concern for Latinos by 2016. But the continued inability of President Obama and the Congress to reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform -- and Obama's refusal to use executive action to stop deportations -- has clearly resonated with Latinos.

Lesson #2: President Obama and the Democrats' immigration gambit failed.
Related to #1, it seems clear that the president and top Democrats were wrong to punt the decision to use executive action on immigration until after the election in a desperate attempt to save several Senate incumbents from defeat. Was a single Democratic Senate candidate saved by this electorally-motivated political decision? Other than maybe Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire -- and that's a big "maybe" -- Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu or Mark Pryor gained little by ducking this issue. The president's promise the day after the election to take action was more than a day too late.

Lesson #3: Mark Udall should have run toward, not away from immigration issue.
Given both of the above, LD's election eve polling in Colorado showed that Latinos were not entirely clear about the stark differences between the immigration records and positions of Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican challenger Cory Gardner. In one of the most striking results (Q5.3), 41 percent of Colorado Latinos were either confused about Gardner's positions or thought Gardner supported reform.

Lesson #4: It's not just Udall, however.
Yet again, Latinos reported very low contacting rates by political parties and campaigns. In 2014, a majority (55 percent) of Latinos we polled said they were not contacted by a campaign, political party or community organization (Q11) in the final months before the election. Because this was a national sample, some Latino respondents we polled live in states that had neither a competitive gubernatorial nor U.S. Senate race, of course. But repeated LD polls over the years document the consistently low rates of campaign and/or party contacting of Latino voters. Is it really any wonder that Latinos are sometimes confused about where candidates stand on issues?

Lesson #5: Latinos voted for themselves as much -- actually, slightly more -- as they did to support the Democrats.
Latinos remain reliably Democratic voters, and are still generally wary of Republican politicians and the GOP's national and state agendas. But Latino support for the Democratic Party in 2014, though generally retaining the levels witnessed in the 2012 presidential and 2010 midterms, is potentially softening (Q6). In our national sample, Latinos said they were voting to "support the Latino community" by a slightly larger margin, 37 percent, than they did to "support the Democrats," at 34 percent. Asked, "Do Democrats truly care about Latinos?" only 48 percent of Latinos said yes (Q14), with a combined 36 percent saying Democrats either "don't care that much" or are "sometimes hostile." But again: See points 1 through 3 above.

Lesson #6: Watch out for Republican Brian Sandoval. George P. Bush? Not so much.
National Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio might be expected to draw higher support from Latinos than a typical Republican. Add to that list Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Yes, Sandoval cruised rather easily to re-election. But even against weak opposition, the fact that he tripled his Latino share between 2010 and 2014 to 47 percent (Q3G) is something to which the national media -- and Republican primary voters or the 2016 GOP presidential nominee -- should pay heed. Elsewhere, in his race for Texas Land Commissioner, George P. Bush (son of Jeb, nephew of Bush43, grandson of Bush41) fared about as expected -- at 33 percent, not surprisingly high nor low -- for a Republican in that state (Q5F2).

Lesson #7: On key issues, Latinos support an active government.
A number of pundits have said 2014 was a year when Republicans won elections but liberal policy measures carried the day as well. By wide margins, 78 percent of Latinos nationally support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour (Q8), and 77 percent of Latinos we polled in five relevant states this cycle (FL, GA, KS, NC & TX) want their states to accept federal Medicaid monies (Q9).

Lesson #8: Hillary Clinton is in strong position for 2016.
Compared with the figures for four potential 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls for whom Latinos had a combined either "favorable" or "somewhat favorable" opinion -- Jeb Bush 34 percent, Marco Rubio 31 percent, Ted Cruz 30 percent and Rand Paul 21 percent -- former FLOTUS, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clocks in with a combined favorable/somewhat favorable rating of 64 percent. Given the fact that Latinos preferred her to Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, as of now and barring some unforeseen developments in the next year or so, Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite among Latinos for both the 2016 in Democratic primary and general election.

Matt A. Barreto and Gary M. Segura are co-founders of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions. Barreto is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and Segura is Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. The are the co-authors of the just published book, Latino America: How America's Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation.