WASHINGTON -- Two right-leaning groups released a poll on Wednesday that shows Latino voters still highly favor Democrats, but there's hope for improvement for Republicans.
The poll from Hispanic Leadership Network and Resurgent Republic found that a majority of Latino voters in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada prefer Democrats and a number of Democratic-supported policies, even on key Republican priorities such as bringing down the deficit and helping small business.
The results of the survey were "sobering," Resurgent Republic board member Whit Ayres told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. For one, more than half of Latino voters polled in each state said the GOP doesn't respect the values and concerns of their community.
"Republicans are in a hole. There's no question Republicans are in a hole," he said. "We're not sugar-coating that. But there's also no question that Republicans have enormous potential to do far better than they've done."
The poll found that a plurality of Latino voters in each of the four states said they are more likely to vote for a Democrat than a Republican in the 2016 presidential election. But nearly a third of those voters in New Mexico and Florida said they would consider both parties, showing there is potential for the GOP to improve its standing. In Colorado and Nevada, closer to a quarter of Latino voters said they would consider both parties.
President Barack Obama won a larger proportion of the Latino vote than previous Democratic presidential candidates did in 2008 (bettering his own numbers), 2004 and 2000. One reason, according to most exit polling and the speakers on Wednesday, was former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's harsh rhetoric and hardline stances on immigration.
"I call it the immigration earmuffs," Hispanic Leadership Network executive director Jennifer Korn said. "Even though you might agree on jobs, the economy, national security, if the tone is harsh on immigration, they're not going to listen to you on the other issues."
Another potential problem for Republicans could be social issues such as same-sex marriage, which a plurality of Latino voters said they support. It's a common trope among Republicans that Latino voters are conservatives who just don't realize it, in part because many are Catholic. But many are also younger than the average Catholic population, and their views on same-sex marriage align more with their age cohort than their religious one.
The poll also challenged the idea that Latinos should favor Republicans on economic policies.
"This is where things start to get a little discomforting for me, as a Republican," Ayres said. "Because these are issues on which you would expect Republicans to do relatively better. ... Democrats [considered to have] ideas that help small business. Now, come on, we are the party of small business, right? But we still haven't made that sale yet in the Hispanic community."
Despite all the obstacles, representatives for the two groups argued there is potential for Republicans to win a larger proportion of the Latino vote, particularly those who said they consider themselves conservatives but voted Democratic anyway.
"The Republican brand among the Hispanic, Latino community is not a good brand. It's in terrible disrepair and is in need of a substantial uplift and needs substantial resuscitation. The patient's not dead, but it's on life support," said former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who is chairman of the American Action Network. "We believe the good news is ... that there is a path to tap into the Latino community."