By Matt Barreto, Latino Decisions
While the 2016 presidential election is a full three years away many of the high profile Republican contenders are enmeshed in the immigration reform debate, and if Republicans demonstrate strong leadership on passing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship possible candidates such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan could get strong support from Latino voters. However if Rubio, Bush or Ryan distance themselves from the immigration bill and House Republicans defeat the measure none of the GOP candidates stands to improve on the historic Romney 2012 defeat among Latinos. [Full poll results here]
A new poll from Latino Decisions, on behalf of America’s Voice found Latino presidential voters are paying very close attention to the immigration debates in Washington D.C. and are evaluating the candidates by their words and actions on immigration reform. Half of the respondents were read a prompt about Rubio working to pass immigration reform:
“Currently the U.S. Congress is debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. Republican Marco Rubio played a key role in helping to pass this bill and with Rubio’s leadership undocumented immigrants receive legal status and a path to citizenship.”
Respondents were then asked how likely they would be to vote for Rubio in the 2016 presidential election. 54% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Rubio, including 50% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012, 46% of Latino Independents, and 55% of Latino voters age 18-34. However, absent any prompting about Rubio working to ensure a final bill is passed, he failed to even reach the 30% support mark among Latinos.
Likewise, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stands to gain if he leans in on the immigration debate and convinces fellow Republicans to pass the bill with a path to citizenship. When respondents were read a prompt about Bush’s support for the immigration bill with a path to citizenship 47% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Bush in 2016, including 42% of those who just cast a ballot for Obama in 2012.
Finally, we asked Latino voters how they would evaluate former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan as a presidential contender in 2016. In recent weeks, Ryan has become an outspoken support of immigration reform efforts, and could emerge as a critical actor in getting a bill out of the House. We asked what effect it would have on Latino 2016 presidential voting, if Paul Ryan were to play a key role in getting immigration reform with a path to citizenship to pass the House. Overall, 44% of Latino voters say they would be likely to vote for Ryan in 2016, including 47% of Independents and 40% of Latino Obama voters. Even Ryan, who was part of the 2012 self-deport ticket, has an opportunity to rebuild his image and standing among Latinos by support immigration reform.
How much support do the GOP contenders need?
In 2012 Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 4.96 million votes, and according to Latino Decisions analysis of the election returns and Latino voting data, Latinos provided Obama with a 5.8 million vote margin. If the Republicans could have won 40% of the Latino vote in 2012 that would have erased 3.6 million net votes – or 72% of the 4.96 million they lost by. Republican don’t need to win the Latino vote outright, they just need to stop losing it so badly. Although Latinos are not the only demographic that Republicans need to improve their showing with, they represent the single largest bloc of voters who are movable. An estimated 11.2 million Latinos cast a ballot in 2012 according to the Census, and more than 12.5 million are likely to cast a vote in 2016, further increasing the share of all voters who are Latino, nationally and in key states. In 2004, George W. Bush won around 40% of the Latino vote and was able to carry states with large and growing Latino electorates like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Virginia — all states that Obama won in 2008 and again in 2012. The polling data today suggests Rubio most of all, but Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan as well, can equal or eclipse the 40% mark among Latinos if they provide leadership on immigration reform to get a bill signed into law. However they remain far from the 40% mark right now.
The 2016 election if Immigration Reform does not pass
As we have pointed out in polling data before, Republicans will not get any credit for getting a bill through half of the Congress. Latino voters expect to see the GOP successfully move immigration reform and send a true compromise bill to the President. When asked who they would support if the 2016 presidential election were today, no more than 28% supported Rubio, no more than 25% supported Ryan, and no more than 30% supported Bush. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton is the runaway favorite among Latinos, and would take anywhere from 66% to 74% of the Latino vote if the election were today. Vice President Joe Biden does not fare as well as Clinton though he still commands 30 to 40 point leads over Republican rivals. Thus, Republicans need some momentum with Latino voters and Latino voters seem to say that passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill is the way forward.
Latino Vote in 2016 (as of July 1, 2013)
About the poll: Latino Decisions interviewed 1,200 Latino presidential voters from June 20-29, 2013. All respondents were Latinos who had voted in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Respondents were interviewed by landline, cell phone, and online, in either English (61%) or Spanish (39%) at the discretion of the respondent. The poll carries an overall margin of error of +/- 2.8% on the full sample, and a margin of error of +/- 4.0% on split samples of n=600. Full toplines of the entire poll are posted here.
This article was first published in Latino Decisions.
Dr. Matt A. Barreto is an Associate Professor in political science at the University of Washington, Seattle and the director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Barreto is a founding principal of Latino Decisions. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Irvine in 2005.[Photo by Gage Skidmore]