Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hispanic Voters Drift From GOP

Latino republicans in California are growing disenchanted with the get-tough-on-immigrants-and-borders rhetoric and are shifting party affiliation. A trend to keep track of....

Angela


By MIRIAM JORDAN

LOS ANGELES — California Hispanics who registered to vote since the last midterm election are less likely to be Republican than those who registered just four years earlier, according to an analysis of party affiliation released Friday.

The report by the nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or Naleo, also shows Hispanics—the fastest-growing voter bloc—are increasingly prone to register as independent, mirroring the trend among all voters.

Among California Latinos who registered between the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections, 23% were Republican, 50% were Democrats and 23% declined to state. More recently, GOP affiliation among Latinos has begun to slip. For those who registered since the 2006 midterm vote, only 16% are Republicans, 56% are Democrats and 24% declined to state an affiliation. For non-Latino voters, the figures are 24% Republican, 44% Democrat and 26% independent since 2006.

Naleo officials and political analysts said the shift could be accelerated by Republican campaign rhetoric championing a get-tougher approach toward illegal immigrants. The top two candidates in California's GOP gubernatorial primary, for example, have courted conservative voters by flooding the airwaves with ads calling for tighter borders and stricter laws.

"Even longtime Republican Latinos are unhappy with this emotional rhetoric," said Lionel Sosa, a media strategist on the Hispanic vote for seven GOP presidents. "Republicans feel they have to go way to the right on immigration to win the primaries. If they want to get elected, they'll need the Hispanic vote."

California insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, who has been losing ground in the GOP primary, has attacked front-runner Meg Whitman by claiming that—unlike him—she supports amnesty for millions of undocumented immigrants and opposes Arizona's new law to crack down on illegal immigration, the toughest in the country. Ms. Whitman, a former eBay chief executive, has countered by saying she is against any amnesty program and that she will send the National Guard to secure California's border with Mexico.

"We are confident that if Meg is successful on primary election day, next fall she will win over support in the Latino community because she is the only credible candidate to create jobs and fix our public schools, two key issues in the Latino community." Ms. Whitman's spokesman said.

Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party, said Democrats are using immigration to distract voters. "The way things are heading, this year's elections will be about taxes, spending, the economy, jobs and debt," he said, adding that "independent voters are strongly moving back to supporting Republicans, and that includes independent immigrants as well as voters who were born here."

Mr. Nehring also said the GOP recognizes the importance of attracting voters beyond its base. "In addition to offering solutions to the issues Americans are most concerned about, we're taking a different approach to building relationships long term into dozens of different ethnic, religious, and occupational backgrounds."

California Latinos' drift away from the GOP began in the 1990s, when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson embraced a ballot initiative that would prevent illegal immigrants and their children from accessing public services. Ultimately, the courts blocked the measure's implementation, but its approval by voters galvanized Hispanics to register to vote in record numbers. Since then, the only Republican to win a major California election was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is considered pro-immigrant.

"This whole immigration thing is really angering me," said 28-year-old Elsa De La Rosa of Pasadena. "It motivates me to vote, and I know it's motivating other Latinos to vote." Ms. Rosa, who doesn't recall voting in the 2006 midterm elections, is a Democrat.

Republican candidates nationwide have been citing immigration to fire up voters, and polls indicate non-Hispanics back the Arizona law by 2-to-1. But the proportion of the U.S. electorate that is white non-Hispanic is declining rapidly: When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, 88% of the national electorate was white. The figure was 74% when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, and Latinos accounted for 7.5% of the electorate, twice their share two decades earlier.

"The numbers don't lie," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. "If Republicans don't figure out how to do better among Hispanics, they are not going to be arguing about winning back Florida in the presidential race. They are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas."

Write to Miriam Jordan at miriam.jordan@wsj.com

No comments: