New Polls of Hispanics Indicate Failure of GOP’s Hispanic Strategy

Last Thursday saw the release of not one, but two, major new polls of Hispanics – one from The Washington Post/Univision/Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and the other from the Pew Hispanic Center. For Matthew Dowd, leading Bush-Cheney campaign strategist, who has famously remarked that “As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between … 38 [percent] to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote” in 2004 for the GOP to be successful, these polls are very bad news indeed.

Start with the Presidential trial heat results. Both polls give Kerry-Edwards a 30 point lead over Bush-Cheney among Hispanic registered voters (RVs). The Washington Post poll (which was conducted in the 11 states with the highest concentrations of Hispanics) has Kerry-Edwards over Bush-Cheney by 60-30, even with Nader-Camejo included. The Pew Hispanic Center (PHC) poll, which was conducted nationally, has Kerry-Edwards over Bush-Cheney by a very similar 62-32.

Note that this 30 point lead is a wider margin than Al Gore had among Hispanics in 2000, when he carried them by 27 points (62-35), according to the 2000 VNS exit poll. And also note that the Bush-Cheney figures of 30-32 percent aren’t anywhere near the 38-40 percent target set by Dowd. And they’re not likely to get much nearer since one would expect Hispanic undecideds to break toward the Democratic challenger, not the Republican incumbent.

These results are significantly worse for Bush than earlier polls of Hispanics this year by the Democracy Corps and others, which generally found Bush behind by margins in the low 20s. So Hispanic voters, it would appear, are trending against the Republicans.

Dowd, who has become notorious for scorched-earth criticism of polls with favorable results for the Democrats, refuses to accept this evidence, offering as a counter that a few small Hispanic subsamples in conventional national polls have showed Bush’s support among Hispanics in the 40 percent range. But this is very poor counter-evidence. These subsamples of Hispanic voters are not only ridiculously small (perhaps 50 voters or so), but they also suffer from the well-known problem that standard telephone polls make no special efforts (use of the Spanish language, etc.) to secure Hispanics’ participation and hence tend to draw more upscale, conservative samples of Hispanics than the specialized efforts discussed here.

Looking at the view of Hispanics, as captured in these polls, it’s not hard to see how Kerry-Edwards could have such a commanding lead at this point. In the WP poll, Bush’s overall approval rating among Hispanics is 36 percent, with 54 percent disapproval. On the economy – by far Hispanics’ top voting issue – Bush’s approval rating is worse, a dismal 32 percent approval/60 percent disapproval. And his rating on Iraq is worse still, 29/62. In addition, his rating on immigration is 27/55 and his rating on education is 40/46. Only on the U.S. campaign against terrorism (54/38) does he have a net positive rating.

But even on this issue, where Bush gets his best approval rating, Hispanics still say they prefer Kerry over Bush by 43-35. And they prefer Kerry over Bush on every other issue as well: the economy (53-28); Iraq (45-34); immigration (46-26); and education (51-27). Kerry is also viewed, by 25 points (55-30), as the candidate who would do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years.

In addition, Hispanics give Kerry higher ratings than Bush on “understands the problems of people like you” (Kerry, 53 yes/23 no vs. Bush, 37/55); “can be trusted in a crisis” (53/21 vs. 47/44); and “is a likable person” (69/14 vs. 61/34). And even on “is a strong leader,” where Kerry and Bush get about the same number of yes votes, Kerry’s net rating is quite a bit higher than Bush’s (57/22 vs. 58/36).

On Iraq, contrary to early media reports that Hispanics were especially supportive of the war, the reverse is clearly now true. Hispanics believe that the United States is losing the war on terrorism (40-37) and that the war hasn’t contributed to the long-term security of the United States (48-44), while the general public still has modest pluralities in the other direction. And Hispanics overwhelmingly believe (63-21) that, considering the costs and benefits to the United States, the war with Iraq wasn’t worth fighting (the general public is only 53-45 that the war wasn’t worth fighting).

Finally, Hispanics in the WP poll give the Democrats a 36-point advantage as the party that has more concern for the Latino community (50-14) and a huge 41-point lead on party ID (66-23).

The results of the PHC poll are generally consistent with the WP poll, though they give the Democrats a smaller (26 point) lead on party ID. The similar trial heat results have already been discussed and Bush’s overall approval rating in the PHC poll (35/55) is similar to that in the WP poll, as is his rating on Iraq (32/58). The PHC poll also finds that Latinos believe the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about how big a threat Iraq was to the US (51-35) and the United States made the wrong decision, not the right decision, in using military force against Iraq (48-39).

On the Bush tax cuts, the PHC poll finds that only 17 percent believe they have been good for the economy. On health care, 86 percent believe the government should provide health insurance for those who don’t have it and, by 59-32, they’d be willing to pay more – either in higher health insurance premiums or taxes – to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance. In fact, Latinos say, by 55-37, they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to support a generally larger government that provides more services, rather than pay lower taxes and have a smaller government with fewer services.

It therefore appears that Matthew Dowd’s hopes for Hispanic voters may be seriously misplaced. These voters just don’t seem like the kind for whom the GOP anti-government, pro-war program holds much appeal. In fact – based on these data – perhaps Dowd should take that 30 percent support that Bush is getting right now and be happy he’s getting that much.

Ruy Teixeira is a joint fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation.