Senator Rubio and the Latino Vote in 2016

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According to a report in the Miami Herald, Senator Rubio’s recent mainstream press coverage will compensate for the lost support from conservative media. To Competitive Edge Research and Communication, a San Diego based public opinion polling firm, this raises interesting questions regarding the Latino vote should Rubio become the Republican presidential nominee.

Being the first Latino on a national ticket would seem to make Rubio a shoo-in for increased Latino support...

Senator Marco Rubio’s immigration reform effort may be in danger, but his presidential ambitions are not. According to a report in the Miami Herald, Senator Rubio’s recent mainstream press coverage will compensate for the lost support from conservative media. To Competitive Edge Research and Communication, a San Diego based public opinion polling firm, this raises interesting questions regarding the Latino vote should Rubio become the Republican presidential nominee.

“Being the first Latino on a national ticket would seem to make Rubio a shoo-in for increased Latino support,” says John Neinstedt, Sr., president and CEO of Competitive Edge. “But many political observers believe otherwise. Some assert that the Republican Party has turned its back on Latino voters, and that Rubio’s heritage won’t matter. Others believe that Rubio’s Cuban roots won’t translate into support from Mexican-Americans or other non-Cuban Latinos.”

Examining exit poll data among Latino voters may shed some light on this issue. Since 1976, GOP presidential candidates have averaged 30.2% of the Latino vote. Post-Watergate, Gerald Ford received a paltry 18%. In 2004, however, 44% of Latinos supported George W. Bush in what was largely viewed as a response to Karl Rove’s obsession with courting the Latino vote. Taken together, these numbers yield a historical range of 26%. All other things being equal – for example, Democrats nominate a non-Latino – Rubio’s Latino heritage should generate more than 30.2% since that historical average was set by white non-Latinos.

Bush’s 2004 performance suggests that vigorous courting of Latinos pays off for GOP candidates. The question then becomes whether Rubio’s push for an immigration bill qualifies as “vigorous.” If so, he could reasonably move into the 40% range among Latinos. Add his ability to communicate in Spanish plus the novelty/solidarity factor of being the first Latino running for the presidency, and Rubio could easily surpass Bush’s performance.

On the other hand, the possibility that the GOP has burned its bridges with Latinos could cause Rubio to sink below 30% of the Latino vote. The large group of center-left Latinos will not embrace the Republican Party, and by extension, a GOP candidate. But Rubio and the Republicans are not going after those voters. Instead, they are fishing for ideological moderates, which make up at least 30% of the Latino electorate.

The cultural differences between Cubans and non-Cubans may be another issue for Rubio. There is no hard evidence to support the notion that Mexican-Americans or Puerto Ricans – the two major nationalities embedded in the larger Latino population – would vote against Rubio because he is Cuban. However, if Rubio can’t get out of the GOP’s toxic shadow, assuming it still exists in 2016, and if non-Cubans are hostile to Rubio, there is a chance his Latino support could recede to Romney’s 27%.

“The GOP candidate has won every election in which they amassed more than 33% of the Latino vote,” says Neinstedt. “I co-hosted a fundraiser for Rubio during his 2010 Senate race, and I think the odds are good he will improve on the GOP average. Rubio just needs to be 4% better than average, and I like his chances.”

About Competitive Edge
Competitive Edge Research & Communication is a San Diego-based consulting firm specializing in public opinion surveys and analysis, political polling, civic studies, and phone-based campaign services. Since 1987, Competitive Edge has provided clients with accurate survey research and campaign services, including designing sound research plans, collecting and analyzing accurate quantitative and qualitative data, providing clear strategic advice, and communicating with voters to identify their opinions and persuade them to take action. For more information, visit http://cerc.net.

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John Nienstedt, Sr.
@CompetitivEdge
since: 03/2009
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