President Obama has reason to worry about Florida, a state he only carried by 205,000 votes, or 2.5%, in 2008. Since then, state records show that Democrats in this state have lost more than 141,000 registered voters, while independent voters have increased by more than 280,000. Republicans, on the other hand, have had a modest net gain of about 70,000 voters.
To put a finer point on it: it seems that non-Hispanic white voters are abandoning the Democratic Party in droves (240,000 in the last four years) while modest gains among black (26,000) and Hispanic (79,000) voters have partially offset the bleeding.
A recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll shows the contest as a dead heat, with President Obama netting 48% support and Governor Romney well within the margin of error at 47%.
In the case of Florida, I believe the true picture of race is not being made visible, and the reason is the enigmatic nature of Florida Hispanics.
Despite the fact that the Democrats have had a net gain of registered Hispanic voters — outpacing Republicans in Hispanic gains 4 to 1 — the biggest gainer was “no party affiliation,” with 96,000 new Hispanic voters. Registered Florida Hispanic voters in 2012 are composed of 38% Democrats, 30% Republicans, and 30% independents.
More important than party affiliation, however, is political outlook. According to 2012 Experian Simmons data, only 20% of Hispanic registered voters in Florida identify themselves as liberal, while 40% identify themselves as conservative and 36% say they are middle of the road. Even among Florida’s Hispanic Democrats, only 24% consider themselves liberal.
Clearly, a large disconnect between party affiliation and political ideology among Florida’s Hispanics exists, and Romney might be well-served by a strategy focusing on Obama as a liberal — an ideology that three-quarters of Hispanic Democrats reject.
Presenting Obama as a small-business killer will resonate with Florida’s entrepreneurial Hispanic voters, 59% of whom have aspirations of setting up their own businesses (vs. 37% for their non-Hispanic Florida counterparts).
On social issues, Florida’s Hispanic voters also track closely with traditionally conservative positions and values. For example, 53% of Florida’s Hispanic voters consider themselves “more pro-life than pro-choice” vs. 30% for non-Hispanics. Also, 52% say it’s important to them to attend religious services vs. 40% for non-Hispanics. And they are more worried about violence and crime (81% vs. 64%) than their non-Hispanic counterparts.
Romney needs to brand President Obama as a liberal whose policies destroy jobs, destroy opportunity, destroy life, and ultimately destroy neighborhoods and families. More specifically, Romney needs to make this pitch in Spanish.
Self-identified Hispanics make up about 13% of Florida’s registered voters, and 37% of them prefer to speak only or mostly Spanish, according to Simmons. In Florida, Spanish-preferring Hispanic voters tend to be older — with a median age of 53 vs. 39 for those who are English-preferring — and more conservative, 43% vs. 38% for English-preferring.
The Florida polls are not accurately representing this pocket of Hispanic voters, whose number could range between 570,000 and 691,000, because they simply aren’t polling in Spanish.
I put the question of polling in Spanish to Doug Kaplan of Gravis Marketing, whose recent Florida poll had Romney ahead by a margin of 48% to 47%. Kaplan:
That is not how we have polled previously; we have only polled in English.
Similarly I reached out to PPP and have not received a reply. I suspect their answer would be similar to that of Gravis Marketing. To be fair, Kaplan said he was open to running such a poll. But the fact remains that a substantial portion of Florida voters with conservative tendencies are not currently being counted by the major polls.
The PPP poll can be instructional to the Romney campaign in that it shows Florida voters have developed a great appreciation for Senator Marco Rubio, who received a bounce from the GOP convention even if Romney himself didn’t. He currently enjoys job approval from 51% of Floridians sampled: 52% among women, and 54% among Hispanics. He is probably even more popular among Spanish-preferring Hispanics not captured in the poll. Fully bilingual and the son of a bartender, Rubio is the perfect surrogate to reach such voters, and Romney should use him often in Spanish-language advertising and press opportunities.
There are good reasons to believe that Governor Romney is actually leading Obama in Florida thanks to conservative Hispanic voters who tend to speak only or mostly Spanish, and a sure way to appeal to all Hispanics is with a message of entrepreneurship, opportunity, and family.