What's Keeping Latino Voters Away from the GOP?

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Matt Barreto, advisor to impreMedia/Latino Decisions polling and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, discussed the findings of a new poll, which suggests that Latino voters do not care as much about religion or social issues as previously thought.

It's the economy, stupid

Republicans running for president have long had difficulty attracting Latino voters. By one measure, that's surprising: Latinos are more likely to identify as religious and as socially conservative, hewing closer to Republican voters than to Democratic ones.

However, a new impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll shows that Latino voters tend to make political decisions based on economic issues and "role of government" issues than they do on moral issues—just as in the general electorate, jobs and the economy are paramount. Matt Barreto said that Republicans playing up their social conservative credentials, like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, may want to re-think their strategy.

While Latinos may be conservative on some of these issues, same-sex marriage, abortion, that's not what is pushing them to the polls, or what's on the front of their minds when it comes to selecting candidates. Candidates, especially Republican candidates, need to be looking at this and saying, that's not our route to the Latino vote.

A path forward?

One of the surprises of the Republican primary race has been the relatively moderate rhetoric about illegal immigration. Rick Perry's "You don't have a heart" comment, and multiple candidates supporting DREAM Act style amnesty processes has softened one of the GOP's historically hard lines. Barreto said this was a good way to try and bring Latinos into the Republican fold.

When Republicans use negative language to describe undocumented immigrants or the burden they believe undocumented immigrants place on the country, that really drives Latino voters away. Even those in second and third generations are saying, hey, that's not a very nice way to talk about immigrants.

Already Newt Gingrich, who may not have changed his policies, is starting at least to change the way he talks about immigration. He used that phrase, "Let's be humane."