Democrats maintain a hammerlock on statewide offices in California in large part due to their success in earning the overwhelming support of Latinos, Asians and African-Americans nationally. In a state which is 38% Latino, Democrat success statewide depends on holding on to this massive portion of the electorate.
For this reason California Democrats should be concerned about this week’s Gallup data showing that President Obama – the man who more than any other defines the Democrat Party in every precinct across America – has seen his support among Latinos plummet more than with any other group.
The numbers are striking. In the course of 11 months, the President’s support has dropped from 75% of Latinos to 52%, a 23 percentage point decline.
There is no way to spin this into anything other than a big problem for the President and his 2014 Democratic candidates.
Let’s dig deeper.
According to Gallup, Latinos’ support of Obama “have shown the most variation of any group…That means their views of him are less firmly anchored than those of other groups.” In other words, Latinos were never totally sold on President Obama in the first place, and they’re more likely to sour on him. Given the universal embarrassment of Obamacare, it’s not difficult to see how voters not firmly committed to the President would turn against him.
The reverse should also be true: if the President is seen as delivering on something of value, his support among Latinos should improve, with benefits for his fellow Democrats as well. Passage of immigration reform for which Democrats can take the bulk of the credit holds such a possibility.
Gallup provides an important lesson for Republicans: Latinos are “more volatile” and therefore less reliable for Democrats than other groups. It is what Gallup describes as “a troubling sign for the Democratic Party.”
The strategic question for Republicans becomes this: can we take advantage of the opportunity to earn support among Latino voters, particularly when their support of the nation’s chief Democrat has reached a critical low?
Unfortunately for our team, Republicans sometimes, unintentionally, provide the tools Democrat leaders and operatives need to drive a wedge between our party and Latino voters. Republican Congressman Steve King’s July comments claiming that the vast majority of children who would benefit from the DREAM Act are drug smugglers is one such example. Those comments may not hurt King in his home state of Iowa, which is just 5.3% Latino, but when they contribute defining the Republican Party and all of its candidates across the country, those comments hurt most regions with large Latino populations, like the entire Southwest.
Why do some Republicans make comments like King’s? Consider this: the typical House Republican we see on TV represents a district that is 75% white, up 2 percentage points following the 2011 redistricting. We have so few Republicans elected from districts where their victory is dependent upon the Latino vote that for them, the GOP’s Latino problem is someone else’s problem. The vast majority of Republicans get this. But a few don’t, and it’s their missteps that only help our opponents.
Baring a scandal, Republicans will not win another statewide election in California until we solve this problem. It’s not question of politics or ideology, but of mathematics. Fortunately, we have positive examples in leaders like Republican Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, who was elected in the most heavily Latino state in the nation, and one where the Democrat advantage in registration is four percentage points larger than their advantage in California. Governor Perry in Texas, another heavily Latino state, won re-election with 37%+ of the Latino vote. Governor Christie in New Jersey won nearly half of Latinos in his re-election last month.
President Obama’s Latino support has tanked. Obamacare has the other team in disarray. Republicans have been given the opportunity to expand our coalition nationally, and especially the Southwest, by offering better solutions and ensuring our communications are free from distracting messages. Victory in 2014 depends on the decisions we make today, and that victory is closer than it was just a few months ago.
Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011.