The possibility that either Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will be the GOP nominee seems to be growing, with the two of them currently jockeying to be the main alternative to businessman Donald Trump. The fact that both senators are Latino has some wondering either of them, if nominated, would draw Latino voters to support him in the general election. Dan Hopkins, one of the analysts at FiveThirtyEight.com, takes a look at the question this morning:
After the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee’s post-mortem called for the party to broaden its appeal to growing, Democratic-leaning constituencies, with Latinos chief among them. Cruz himself said in 2012: “If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party” in Texas. But just how much would nominating Cruz or Rubio help the Republicans with Latinos?...
Assessing the likely appeal of Cruz or Rubio among Latinos is not straightforward. Latinos are diverse, with many strongly attached to individual national origin groups as well as the pan-ethnic labels “Latino” or “Hispanic.” In the 2010 census, 44 percent of people who identified as Hispanic wrote in “Mexican” on a question about racial background. And it’s not clear whether candidates of Cuban descent have much appeal among Mexican-descended voters, especially in swing states like Nevada and Colorado….
As we’ll see, Cruz and Rubio have earned votes from Latinos who didn’t back the last two GOP standard-bearers. But in an appeal to Latino voters, there is peril as well as promise. Overtures to Latino voters have the potential to alienate another key GOP demographic: anti-immigration whites. So the GOP’s hope to win votes from Latinos faces two roadblocks. One stems from the diversity of the Latino population, the other from diversity within the Republican Party.
According to Hopkins, Rubio did extremely well in his 2010 election with Latinos of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, but with those of Mexican descent he only matched GOP 2008 presidential nominee John McCain’s showing. Cruz seems to have fared well across the board, this time compared with Romney in 2012:
Overall, Romney out-polled Cruz by just under half a percentage point. But as the chart shows, in what was an uncompetitive race for Senate, Cruz did better than Romney in heavily Latino counties, sometimes markedly so. In Texas, the fifth-percentile county is 7 percent Latino, while the 95th-percentile county is 83 percent Latino. As we move from the former to the latter, Cruz’s advantage compared to Romney grows by a whopping 8 percentage points.
Another piece of information Hopkins looks at is the favorability ratings among Latinos of the two senators.
Most surveys don’t break out their results for Latinos, and many don’t interview in Spanish. But a 2014 survey by Latino Decisions found Rubio’s detractors to outnumber his admirers. He was viewed favorably by 31 percent of the Latinos interviewed and unfavorably by 36 percent, numbers that match what the Public Religion Research Institute found in November 2015. Gallup surveys in the summer of 2015 found Rubio polling notably better among Hispanics, with those viewing him favorably outnumbering those viewing him unfavorably by 5 percentage points. Yet the same polls found Cruz underwater by 7 percentage points, reinforcing the idea that Latinos judge Cruz and Rubio not just on ethnicity but also on their positions and profile.
Oddly, the article doesn’t put this information in context – generally a Republican doesn’t need to win the Latino vote outright in order to win the presidency; getting 40 percent or so of the community’s votes is enough to do well (Romney received about 27 percent, McCain 31 percent, and Bush 44 percent, according to this Politico article). So if either Cruz or Rubio were to lose the Latino vote by only 10 percentage points in November, he would likely be well on his way to victory.
The danger Hopkins cites is that, depending on how a Cruz or Rubio campaign chooses to reach out to Latino voters, they could drive away some anti-illegal immigration voters who are thought to be favoring Trump at the moment. It’s easy to see how this may be a problem for Rubio, but it’s less clear why Cruz might be affected given his views on immigration. Here’s how the immigration views of both are described in both candidates’ profiles at the Leadership Project for America:
Rubio was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which was criticized heavily by many conservatives because, among other provisions, it provided a pathway to citizenship for many illegal aliens. He has since backed off of his support for a comprehensive bill, arguing instead that a piecemeal approach should be taken, with border-enforcement measures coming first.64
Rubio’s overall stance on immigration 65 is that the border should be secured, illegal immigrants currently here should be allowed to remain (presuming no additional criminal activity), and legal immigration should be expanded, particularly in regard to highly skilled workers.
He summarized his position in an interview by saying, “The first two things you have to do is stop illegal immigration, then second you have to modernize our legal immigration system, and then third you can have a debate about how to even legalize people to begin with. And then ultimately in 10 or 12 years you could have a broader debate about how has this worked out and should we allow some of them to apply for green cards and eventually citizenship.”66
More recently, Rubio has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation that would crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.67 He also said he would end the Obama program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which permits illegal aliens who entered the country as young children to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation.68
In mid-November 2015, Cruz proposed suspending the H-1B visa program that brings skilled foreign workers into the country legally. He pledged to stop any increase in legal immigration until domestic labor participation returns to what he called “historical averages.” This represented a reversal of his past support for increasing the number of H-1B visas and green cards. He also pledged to increase deportations, although he has remained silent on whether all illegal aliens should be deported,74 with his campaign saying he supported “attrition through enforcement.”75 Despite authoring an amendment in 2013 to the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that would have denied citizenship but granted legal status to many illegal immigrants, Cruz says he has never supported granting legal status to illegal immigrants.76
Cruz introduced legislation that would facilitate the expedited processing of unaccompanied minors coming in through the southern border and would require the secretary of defense to reimburse states for National Guard deployments in response to large-scale border crossings of unaccompanied alien children.77 He is a co-sponsor of legislation that would cut federal funds given to cities that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities, often called “sanctuary cities.”78
He has consistently opposed proposals that create a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, including the DREAM Act. He does support a focus on securing the borders,79 including sponsoring legislation to triple the number of Border Patrol agents and finishing construction of a double-layered fence on the border.80 He favors ending “birthright citizenship,” which gives U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal aliens born in the U.S. Doing so would require a constitutional amendment.81
It’s impossible to know how this might sort out in the end, but it seems likely that both Cruz and Rubio would be able to increase Latino support for their candidacies compared with the past two Republican nominees. If they can do so while limiting any losses among anti-illegal immigration voters, it would be a major boost to the Republican ticket in November.