« AP-Ipsos Poll: Most Oppose Reinstating Draft | Main | More Bad News For Governor Schwarzenegger »

Hispanics Poised to Move Democratic

It’s early days, but Hispanic voters, despite the (real, but typically exaggerated) GOP progress with these voters in the 2004 election, appear ready to move back toward the Democrats in 2006.

Let’s review the bidding. In 2004, Kerry carried the Hispanic vote 58-40 (using the figure from the combined NEP state exit polls, rather than the discredited national exit poll figure). Adjusting the NEP House vote data to reflect a 58-40 presidential split suggests that Democratic House candidates carried the Hispanic two-party vote by about 59-41.

So the Hispanic vote in 2004 was decisively Democratic, but less so than in recent years. For example, in 2000, Gore carried the Hispanic vote 62-35 and in 1998, 2000 and 2002, Democrats carried the Hispanic House vote by 63-37, 65-35 and 62-38, respectively.

These figures do indicate that 2004 was a good year for the GOP among Hispanic voters in comparison to the recent past. But the extent of GOP progress is sometimes exaggerated by using 1996 as a benchmark for comparison to both 2000 and 2004. This is problematic not only because Clinton’s 72-21 margin in 1996 was anomalously high, but also because Hispanics were defined differently in that year than they have been subsequently.

This difference is not widely understood and deserves some explanation. Here is the basic story: prior to 1998, the exit polls used a single race question (“Are you white, black, Hispanic/Latino.....”) to capture Hispanics, as opposed to a race question plus another question on whether the respondent is of Hispanic descent or not, which has been included on exit polls since 1998. The change in methodology allows the exit polls to capture more Hispanics, but, since those Hispanics who do not identify themselves as Hispanic in the race question tend to be more conservative than those who do identify themselves as Hispanic in that question, it makes the expanded sample of Hispanics post-1998 more conservative than the pre-1998 samples.

Got that? Therefore to compare pre-1998 Hispanic exit poll figures to post-1998 Hispanic exit poll figures is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. A better comparison can be obtained by looking at just the Hispanics who self-identify in the race question, since that is common to all the exit polls.

With such a comparison, 1996 remains the high point, but the fall-off to 2000-04 is less severe. Indeed, the Hispanic presidential vote, defined in this way, has averaged 64-35 Democratic in these two elections, actually more strongly Democratic than in the two Reagan elections of 1980-84, when the Hispanic presidential vote averaged 61-35 Democratic.

And in the next election following Reagan’s relatively good performances among Hispanics–1988–the Hispanic presidential vote moved sharply Democratic to 69-30. Don’t be surprised if we see the same kind of trend in 2008.

Or 2006 for that matter. Consider the results of the new Democracy Corps poll of Hispanic voters. In that poll, Hispanic voters who express a preference for the 2006 Congressional elections currently give the Democrats a 68-32 edge in the two-party vote. The rest of the poll tells us why Hispanic support for the Democrats has become so lop-sided.

Hispanic voters give Republicans an average feeling thermometer (0=coldest; 100=warmest) score of 48 and Democrats an average score of 60. And 63 percent of these voters identify with or lean towards the Democratic party compared to just 31 percent who identify with or lean towards the Republicans.

Hispanic voters were also asked which party they associate more with a number of positive characteristics. In no case did the Republicans have an advantage over the Democrats, even on national security related items. Here are the characteristics with Democratic advantages in parentheses: accepting different cultures (44); addressing the concerns of the Hispanic community (41); for the middle class (39); support working families (35); cares about people (34); putting the public interest first (33); on your side (28); opportunity (26); for families (22); shares your values (18); freedom (15); prosperity (10); respecting religious faith (10); personal responsibility (8); know what they stand for (7); and can be trusted to keep America safe (4). When Republicans don’t even have an advantage on that last item, you know they’re not doing too well.

But perhaps Hispanics have more confidence in President Bush who, after all, did do relatively well among Hispanics in the 2004 election? Not by these data. Bush’s disadvantages relative to Democrats track pretty closely with his party’s disadvantages relative to Democrats, right down to “can be trusted to keep America safe”, where Hispanic voters give the Democrats a five point edge.

Doesn’t sound like Bush can be counted on to reverse his party’s currently poor image among Hispanics. And the rest of the poll suggests little in the way of issues (with the possible exception of education) that seem likely to boost the GOP.

Instead, the poll provides strong evidence of Hispanic voters’ dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the economy and considerable interest in Democratic messages around issues like health care, economic opportunity and even stem cell research. Thus, Hispanic voters do appear poised to move Democratic in 2006, with very little pushing them toward the GOP. It’s up to Democrats to make sure this potential trend becomes a reality.