Hispanic Voters Revisited

Stanley Greenberg’s new survey (PDF) of Hispanic voters addresses a number of interesting points, but two really stand out here. The first is the rather obvious truism that candidates really do matter come election time. George W. Bush, of course, captured a near-historic percentage of the Hispanic vote, 40 percent in 2004. But he did this in part by distancing himself from the negative perceptions that Hispanics had of the Republican Party in general. Only 18 percent of Hispanics consider the GOP to be “accepting of different cultures”—indeed, the Democratic Party has a 40 point lead on the issue—but 30 percent thought the same of Bush himself. 30 percent is nothing to brag about in tolerance contests, but difference came in handy on election day. Unfortunately for the GOP, no other presidential name for 2008 seems to carry a similar personal advantage.

Now as to why Kerry did relatively poorly among Hispanics, some 39 percent claimed that they had no idea “what he stood for.” Yeah, well, so it goes, we’ve heard this ad infinitum and it’s not clear what Democrats can do about this besides, perhaps, run a more comprehensible candidate (Hispanics give Bill Clinton, for instance, an overwhelmingly warm personal rating). Anyway, the second reason—28 percent—had to do with Kerry’s “permissiveness on abortion and gay marriage,” which would appear to give “centrist” Democrats yet another excuse to sacrifice abortion rights in order to reclaim swing voters. But if you look a bit farther down, a pro-life Democrat would run only slightly better than a pro-choice Democrat, and support for stem cell research pretty much swamps any edge an abortion foe could bring. (Obviously a pro-life, pro-stem cell candidate would do best, but Bill Frist’s delusions of the White House aside, there aren’t many presidential contenders who take this view.)

Meanwhile, one should note that Hispanic voters under 30 and Hispanic voters with a college education are overwhelmingly pro-choice (60 and 62 percent respectively). So Bush may have won himself a slight advantage in 2004 on the issue, but over time—given changing demographics and, one would hope, a greater proportion of Hispanics going to college—abortion will turn into a much less successful wedge issue for Republicans to wield. For that matter, read Digby’s weekend post on this very topic—although I’d note that, at least as far as the polls are concerned, the left-liberal position on both the intelligent design debate and the Ten Commandments-in-the-courthouse debate seem to be spectacularly lost causes. But other than that…