President Bush’s rising popularity with Hispanic voters spells trouble for Democrats in future elections.
The president took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day, up nine percentage points from 2000. Strategists say if that support continues to grow — reaching 50 percent or higher — it could equate to a Republican lock on the White House when coupled with the 62 percent support that the party enjoys among white male voters.
“The other piece of the puzzle is, the gender gap is narrowing … in the realm of public opinion,” said Michael McKenna of the research firm MWR Strategies.
Election Day exit polls showed Mr. Bush receiving the nod from 48 percent of female voters — a group that traditionally supports Democrats.
“When you take the Hispanic vote, it gets pretty tough for Democratic strategists who are looking to see ‘where do I get votes from,’ ” Mr. McKenna said.
He conducted a nationwide survey of 800 Hispanic voters from Oct. 27 to 29 with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
The poll showed Mr. Bush with “a solid advantage” among Hispanic voters on social and national security issues. Twenty-five percent of Hispanic voters who supported the president did so because of his religious beliefs and values, while 39 percent supported him because of his stance on national security.
Mr. Bush’s Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, however, had the advantage on economic issues. Forty percent of Hispanic voters supporting the Massachusetts senator said the economy was paramount to their decision.
Because immigrants, the majority of whom are Hispanic, are among the fastest-growing segments of the population, Republicans see their support as key to future elections. Hispanics recently overtook blacks as the nation’s largest minority group.
Mr. McKenna said polls showing Republican gains in the Hispanic voting blocs in Texas and in the swing states of Florida and New Mexico are real problems for Democrats.
“If the Democrats begin to lose their handhold on Mexican voters in Texas and then New Mexico, even with [Governor] Bill Richardson, the Democrats couldn’t hold on to New Mexico,” he said.
Exit polls gauging the Hispanic vote, however, are being disputed.
“The Willie C. Velazquez Institute put out their own poll showing that Kerry got 67 percent of the Latino vote, and Bush got 31 percent,” said Maria T. Cardona, a Democratic strategist with the New Democrat Network.
She said exit polls of Hispanic voters in the 2000 election were flawed because they did not include Cuban voters.
“The polls from 2000 show that Bush actually got 65 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida and Gore got 35 percent,” she said, after the Cuban voters were included.
Exit polls from Florida this year showed that Mr. Kerry got 45 percent of the Hispanic vote and Bush got 55 percent, “and that is a 10 percent drop.”
Hispanic organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) are claiming victory regardless of their political leanings because the vote for their ethnic group increased by nearly 3 million.
But one thing is clear: “Hispanics cannot be simplistically or accurately characterized as a core constituency for either party,” said Janet Murguia, NCLR executive director.