As Obama falters, are Hispanics an opportunity for GOP?
With much speculation about Hispanics and the 2012 election, we thought it worth taking a look. Anecdotally you hear whispers (some louder than others) about President Obama’s erosion in the Hispanic community – that Hispanics are turning against him headed into 2012. But is it true?
In 2008, Obama received 66 percent of the Hispanic vote, an impressive showing that propelled him to the defeat of John McCain. The high level of support in the Hispanic community lasted through his inaugural year in office. As the NBC/Wall Street Journal data library demonstrates, Obama posted approval ratings of 67 percent in February 2009 and 72 percent in October of the same year.
But, Obama’s slide among Hispanics began in 2010, and continues. Across the entire 2010 year, Obama averaged a 60 percent approval rating among Hispanic voters. In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, conducted in late August, his approval rating dipped to 57 percent. And, in the latest Gallup survey, just 48 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Obama has done.
Even more telling are his approval numbers for his handling of the economy. Upon entering office, 71 percent of Hispanics approved of Obama’s handling of the economy. Fast forward to August 2011, and his economic approval rating his dropped to 50 percent among Hispanic voters.
These numbers in themselves are not horribly bad. But combined with the president’s demise among white voters, the math to get to 50 percent is harder for Team Obama. As my partner Glen Bolger wrote in a post you can find here: “If the GOP shaves a few points off of Obama’s 2008 percentage with Hispanics (which was 66 percent), that will be very costly to him.”
In fact, the August NBC/WSJ survey suggests Obama will have trouble getting close to the 66 percent share of the Hispanic vote in 2012. Today, just 51 percent of Hispanic voters say they would cast their vote to re-elect Obama, while 35 percent would choose the Republican candidate. Of course, the game changes when there is an actual GOP nominee, but one can start to see the prospect of the GOP shaving off a few points among Hispanics.
Dems haven’t lost Hispanics, but there is trouble
Does this mean Obama and Democrats have “lost” Hispanic voters? No. The image rating of The Republican Party through 2011 is just 26 percent positive and 42 percent negative. In fact, the Republican Party has done little to alter its image among Hispanics since 2009, when the image rating was 25 percent positive/40 percent negative.
The Democratic Party is still viewed considerably more favorably at 47 percent positive/23 percent negative, but even that’s a far cry from the 60 percent positive in February of 2009.
Encouraging for Republican congressional candidates is the “who would you prefer control Congress” question. In 2010 through the course of the year, Dems enjoyed an almost two-to-one margin (30 percent GOP/59 percent Dem, or -29 percent), which has narrowed over two surveys this summer to 36 percent GOP/56 percent Dem (-20 percent).
All this suggests that yes, Obama has trouble with Hispanics that he can ill-afford, and it may have repercussions down-ballot. Hispanic voters have not bolted en masse, but that doesn’t have to happen to tilt the balance to a Republican, considering Obama’s serious problems among white voters.
Longer-term, Republicans must seize an opportunity to connect with Hispanic voters. Obama’s loss is not necessarily the Republicans’ gain. Republicans need to move toward systemic success as opposed to isolated victories if we are to consistently compete for the Hispanic vote.
In 2010, individual Republican candidates proved that they could win significant shares of the Hispanic vote, but the GOP has yet to change the overall brand. Obama’s slippage with Hispanics might be enough to score some victories in 2012, but as the demographics of the country continue to shift, it will not be enough to sustain us in the years ahead.
Nicole McCleskey is a partner with Public Opinion Strategies, which is a national public opinion research company. POS currently polls for 20 U.S. senators, six governors, and more than 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. POS is also the Republican polling partner for the NBC/Wall Street Journal and two-time recipient of Pollster of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants. POS polled for Gov. Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, and dozens of legislative races in New Mexico.