As a bloc, Hispanics still like Bush

Donald Lambro

8/3/2006 12:00:05 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- One of the unreported findings in a recent Democratic poll of Hispanics is that their party has made only "modest gains" among this pivotal minority voting group.

It's a given that Republican support among Hispanic voters overall, 40 percent of whom voted for President Bush in the 2004 elections, has taken a nosedive in the wake of the congressional battle over immigration and the GOP's crackdown on illegal aliens.

But what is not widely known or understood is that there's still a lot of support among Hispanic voters for Bush and the Republicans, particularly among those for whom Spanish is the dominant language, especially on some core political issues.

This is what I found when I dug deeply into the numbers produced by a national survey of 600 Spanish-speaking Hispanic voters conducted during the last week of June by the New Democratic Network, an influential party-advocacy group. One of the poll's most unexpected findings is that the Democrats have not made the major advances across the spectrum of the nation's biggest minority group that many believe. In fact, the poll concluded that Democrats still "have a lot of work to do" to explain what they stand for, according to a background memo from NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center.

The poll's results were released July 19, but some key findings showed pockets of significant support for Republicans and for the president among important parts of the Hispanic community -- findings that were not clearly reported or were ignored altogether.

One of the findings is that "while Democrats have made modest gains with this group, growing from 52 percent in 2004 to 59 percent, most of the movement this year has been away from Bush and the Republicans and not toward Democrats," the NDN polling analysis said.

"In a detailed issue battery, while consistently far ahead of Republicans, Democrats regularly underperform their 59 percent electoral performance and 65 percent (Democratic) party favorability. This indicates that while the Democrats are well regarded by this electorate, they are not well-defined," the memo said.

For example, despite the anger the House and Senate immigration bills have ignited in the Hispanic electorate at large, "more (Spanish-dominant) Hispanics say the immigration debate will not affect how they will vote this November -- 41 percent -- than say that it makes it more likely they will vote Democratic -- 36 percent," the memo said.

Moreover, while Democrats lead Republicans among these Hispanics by large margins on most issues, particularly on the Iraq war, Republicans beat them on the key issues of national security, fighting terrorism and on supporting small businesses.

"Republicans win on national security by 5 points, on terrorism by 20 points and on being better on business," said Joe Garcia, director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center.

It is well-known that Bush did better among Hispanic voters overall in 2004, capturing 40 percent of their vote, but what is not well-known is that he captured a whopping 48 percent of this Spanish-dominant Hispanic bloc that makes up half of the Hispanic vote.

Since then, Ken Mehlman, who managed Bush's re-election campaign before being named Republican National Committee chairman, has made Hispanic outreach a major part of the RNC's agenda. His political pitch is on economic, cultural, educational and ownership grounds -- issues that have strong appeal within this group.

Still, the NDN poll findings showed that if the presidential election were held today, Republicans would face a significant drop in voting preference among Hispanics, down to 23 percent, modest growth for Democrats, 59 percent, while 18 percent remained undecided.

Significantly, NDN's analysis of this 18 percent "finds this group very favorable to President Bush and wary of Democrats.

"While unhappy with the direction of the country, this group will not be an easy one for Democrats to make substantial gains with," NDN said.

Looking more deeply into these undecided voters, the poll also found that 48 percent "tend to have a more favorable opinion of Bush," 53 percent have a favorable view of the Republicans and 36 percent have an unfavorable view of the Democrats."

So what does this all mean? Well, if you add the 23 percent who would vote Republican for president today and the 18 percent who heavily lean Republican, and you still have more than 40 percent of this all-important Hispanic bloc in the GOP's column. "That is not chopped liver," Garcia admits, but adds the "higher concentration for the Democrats" in the total Hispanic vote "is still a loss for the Republicans."

Except for one big political variable. "Hispanics are not a single-issue voting bloc. They will vote on other things besides immigration," he points out. "What Democrats have to worry about is the long-term gains Republicans may have made through Bush's continued efforts to appeal to this group. Once you vote one way in two election cycles, you are no longer swing voters."

Garcia's ominous message to Democrats: "These Hispanic voters are not only highly volatile, they are vulnerable to being lost."