Hispanics, women: Problems for the GOP?

As the presidential election approaches, Republicans must shore up their support among two critical groups: women and Hispanics. For the GOP, polls here are moving in the wrong direction.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
A man walks by a mural in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida, in January, 2012. Polls show President Obama leading his Republican rivals among Latino voters.

As the presidential election approaches, Republicans will have to shore up their support among two critical portions of the electorate: women and Hispanics.

They lost both to Barack Obama in 2008, and current polling in both areas is not a comfort to the GOP for 2012.

A new Fox News Latino poll shows that Hispanics – the fastest growing segment of the US population – favor Obama over Republican front-runner Mitt Romney by a whopping 70-14 percent, and none of the other Republican candidates does any better. Obama even wins 40 percent of Latino voters who backed John McCain in the last presidential election.

“It is pretty obvious that we can’t continue to lose Latinos two to one as we did in 2008 and remain competitive as a national party,” GOP strategist Whit Ayres told a Monitor-hosted press breakfast Thursday.

On related issues, most Hispanics disagree with Republican candidates competing to be toughest on immigration, the Fox News Latino poll shows. Ninety percent support the DREAM Act (which creates a path to US citizenship for young people who were brought into the country illegally while minors), 85 percent favor a way to become citizens for all illegal immigrants, and 82 percent believe undocumented immigrants help to grow the US economy.

“The immigration debate and the tone of some people in discussing it hurt the Republican Party,” Ayres said. “I don’t think there is any way you can deny that.”

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

This tone in how the GOP candidates discuss immigration and other issues particularly important to Hispanic voters concerns others as well.

In a piece headlined “Republicans Are Needlessly Offending Hispanics” in the National Review Online, conservative columnist Mona Charen had this advice for Republican candidates:

“Republicans should never discuss illegal immigration without first praising the contributions that legal Hispanic and other immigrants have made to American society…. They should showcase high-ranking Republican officeholders, entertainers, and businessmen of Hispanic ancestry. They should learn a few words of Spanish. Then, and only then, should they express their opposition to illegal immigration. How you say it matters as much as what you say.”

Tone in campaign rhetoric is important regarding women as well, and here too the GOP has challenges.

The women’s vote in 2008 was a virtual landslide for Obama: 56 percent for him, 43 percent for McCain.

In the 2010 midterm elections, women and men voted pretty much alike. That may be changing, however.

“Now, female voters appear to be swinging back to Democrats,” writes Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post. “A number of polls show Obama’s approval among women has risen significantly since December, even as it has remained flat among men.”

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out this week has Obama “benefiting from an increase in support from white women, Midwesterners and white, blue-collar Americans.”

The poll shows Obama beating Romney 55 percent to 37 percent among women voters. This tracks with another recent poll from the Associated Press/Gfk that shows Obama leading Romney by 13 points among women, though tied among men.

Most recently, that has to do with the controversy over Obama’s policy regarding birth control and religious institutions. Beyond the specifics of that issue (and Obama’s partial retreat), polls show most women side with the administration on contraceptive services and health insurance, as well as on abortion.

In retrospect, the Republican presidential candidates may have wished that they hadn’t spent so much campaign time on such issues.

“The contraception fiasco – exacerbated by Rush Limbaugh’s insensitive comments about a female Georgetown Law student – is causing women voters to abandon the GOP in favor of Obama and the Democrats,” Fox News policy analyst Juan Williams wrote on the Fox website Friday.

Karen Tumulty at the Washington Post points out that the same trend is appearing regarding Congress.

“When the Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey asked last summer which party should control Congress, a slim 46-42 percent plurality of women said it should be the Democrats,” Tumulty writes.

“But in a survey released Monday, compiling polling since the beginning of the year, that figure had widened considerably to a 15-point advantage for the Democrats.”

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

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