Pro & Con: Is the Republican Party winning over Hispanics?

YES: GOP positions on jobs, education align with Hispanic voters.

By Lamar Smith

The conventional wisdom has already settled like a blanket over Washington. Allegedly, Hispanics flocked to the polls to punish Republicans for the Arizona immigration law. They “saved” the Senate for Democrats. And on and on. The conventional wisdom, however, is wrong. The 2010 election actually paints a very bright picture of the Republican Party’s relations with this country’s growing Hispanic population.

Exit polls reported by CNN and later updated reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent). In fact, since 1984, Republican House candidates have only won a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote in one election: 2004. This level of Hispanic support for Republican candidates came despite widespread pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that the Arizona law and a pro-rule-of-law stand would undercut Hispanic support for Republicans.

Many Hispanics indeed voted for the very Republican candidates most identified as having a pro-enforcement or anti-amnesty stance. And these Republicans generally did as well as, or better than, the Republicans running for the same positions in the previous election. According to exit polls reported by CNN:

● 55 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida voted for Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek (compared with 41 percent for the Republican Senate candidate in 2006);

● 50 percent voted for Rick Scott over Alex Sink for governor (compared with 49 percent voting for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006);

● 38 percent voted for Rick Perry over Bill White for governor of Texas (up from 31 percent voting for Perry in 2006);

● 30 percent voted for Sharron Angle over Harry Reid in the Nevada Senate race (compared with 27 percent voting for the Republican candidate against Reid in 2004);

● 29 percent voted for Carly Fiorina over Barbara Boxer in the California Senate race (up from 23 percent for the Republican candidate against Boxer in 2004);

● 28 percent voted for Jan Brewer over Terry Goddard for governor of Arizona (compared with 26 percent voting for the Republican candidate in the 2006 governor’s race).

What about the much-trumpeted victories of Reid, Boxer, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, D-Calif., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.? Their Republican opponents lost not because they underperformed among Hispanic voters but because they underperformed among white voters.

National exit polls reported by CNN indicated that Republican U.S. House candidates received 60 percent of the white vote overall. But Fiorina and Angle won only 52 percent of the white vote, Ken Buck in Colorado won only 51 percent and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman won only 50 percent of the white vote. Had each received 60 percent of the white vote, they all would have won.

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so, too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

On many of the most important issues of our day — jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy — the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas’s 21st District, will be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January.

NO: GOP is losing Hispanic support on immigration, election data show.

By Edward Schumacher-Matos

I respect Lamar Smith for his consistency, especially on immigration. If all congressmen voted their conscience, I suspect that two-thirds of current House members would legalize most unauthorized immigrants in the country. Not Smith.

He seems convinced that we should deport even the youths who came illegally with their parents but later proved their worth to the nation by going to college or joining the military.

But if Smith isn’t cynical, he does engage in political wishful thinking. He wrote that hard-line immigration views are winning over so many Hispanics that it paints “a very bright picture” for the Republican Party. If Smith believes this, he is whistling in the dark, and the tune isn’t “The Eyes of Texas.” It is “Over the Rainbow.”

Smith cites the national exit polling following last month’s midterm election that — despite the Arizona law and immigrant-bashing by many Republicans — gave the GOP 38 percent of the Latino vote. This is indeed a big improvement on the 31 percent the poll gave John McCain against Obama.

But Smith is making two politically fatal mistakes. One is that the midterm result is far below the 44 percent that George W. Bush got in 2004, and within the range of mid-30s that Republicans regularly receive. Significantly, it is nowhere near the 45 percent that party strategists know they need to compensate in the future for the declining Anglo share of the vote.

The second concerns the exit poll itself. It tends to overcount the Latino and African-American vote as Republican. Only the poll’s trends are valuable, as the same poor measures are used each election. Even Bush’s 44 percent, reported widely as fact for six years, is suspect.

A Latino-only exit poll by the William C. Velasquez Institute put the Bush number at 31 percent, a huge difference.

Last month, Matt Barreto of the University of Washington and Gary Segura of Stanford University carried out a survey similar to an exit poll in eight heavily Hispanic states. The night before polls closed, they sampled early voters and highly likely voters who had voted in the past. Sharron Angle, who may have run the nation’s most reprehensible campaign against Latino immigrants, was said by the national poll to have won an incredible 30 percent of the Latino vote against Reid. She won 8 percent in the poll by the two academics.

Barreto and Segura are now studying just-released official vote records and applying a widely accepted statistical technique called “ecological inference” that courts use in voting rights lawsuits.

So far, they have found that in the two counties that make up 95 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada, 94 percent of Latinos voted for Reid. In the five counties that make up nearly 90 percent of the Latino vote in Arizona, they estimate that Gov. Jan Brewer won 12 percent for re-election, and not the totally unbelievable 28 percent that the national poll gave her for the state.

Barreto and Segura’s results coincide with what was being universally reported on the ground.

The national poll is good at projecting how states vote but was never meant to measure vote by race or ethnicity. It samples precincts, not people, and even then not randomly. It grossly misses Latino voters, especially Spanish speakers, who are heavily concentrated in only some precincts, mostly urban ones. It overcounts the few, acculturated high-income Latinos who live in mostly white suburbs.

Still, I wish Smith had been right, for other reasons. Latinos need a Republican Party that reaches out to them, but on the old grounds of work ethic and family values. That party, however, seems to be history.

Edward Schumacher-Matos writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.