Latino Voters in California Still Reluctant to Embrace GOP Candidates, Poll Shows

Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2010

Latino voters, who have helped to propel California’s leftward political swing over recent years, remain reluctant to embrace Republican candidates as the November general election nears, a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll shows.

Registered voters who identified themselves as Latino backed Democrat Jerry Brown by a 19-point margin over Republican Meg Whitman in the race for governor, despite Whitman’s multiple appeals to Latino voters during the general election campaign. Registered voters who identified themselves as white gave Brown a slim 2-point margin.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer held a 38-point lead over Republican Carly Fiorina among registered Latino voters, five times the lead she held among white voters.

Latino views are keenly watched by political candidates and campaigns because of the state’s demographic march. A 2009 study by the Field Poll found that white voters had declined from 83% to 65% of the electorate in the previous three decades. At the same time, the percentage of Latino voters had almost tripled, to 21%.

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Not even the most optimistic Republican oddsmaker has presumed that the GOP candidates could win the Latino vote outright, but the party has long sought to at least boost its standing among Latinos enough to narrow the traditional Democratic edge among other groups, such as women and nonpartisan voters. This year, Whitman has fought Brown to a near-draw for much of the campaign, but that has been due to her gains among nonpartisan voters and women, not Latinos.

Whitman has reached for Latino support in myriad ways. She began airing ads on Spanish-language television stations after her June primary victory, highlighting her opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law. She also noted her opposition to the particulars of the 1994 California measure, Proposition 187, which would have denied taxpayer-financed services to illegal immigrants. She erected billboards in Latino communities, opened a campaign office in East Los Angeles and spoke to Spanish-language media outlets.

But she remains the favorite of only one-third of registered Latino voters, the survey found.

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When voters were asked whether they preferred a governor with experience in government or one who has “real-life experience in business,” white voters sided narrowly with the government veteran. Latinos, however, gave a 12-point advantage to the business world outsider. When voters were asked whether they were more concerned that Whitman would side with big corporations or that Brown would bow to labor unions, white voters cited Whitman and corporations by 8 points. Latinos were less worried, expressing the same concern by a mere 3 points, and they were no more concerned than whites with the personal money Whitman has spent on her campaign.

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Whitman herself has long hoped that her business background and the growing small-business pursuits of Latinos would provide some common ground. “Latinas are the fastest-growing segment of the market in starting new businesses,” she told supporters at an Orange County event in May 2009, explaining why Latinos were a key component of her plan for victory.

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Overall, while white voters gave Brown a net unfavorable rating, by a 47%-42% margin, Latino voters gave Brown a favorable rating, 34% to 26%. Whites (48% to 36%) and Latinos (34% to 22%) both gave Whitman a net unfavorable rating.

{snip} Because they constitute smaller percentages of voters, the views of African American and Asian voters could not be compared in a statistically meaningful way.

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