As we get closer to the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa Bay, FL, speculation grows as to who Mitt Romney will nominate as his candidate for Vice President. Marco Rubio, Cuban American freshman U.S. Senator from Florida, has been a very visible member of the short list of potential nominees. One potential benefit to Romney from nominating Rubio is ethnic diversity. Romney is losing the Latino vote to Obama by a wide margin, especially in swing states like Florida. This raises the question of whether nominating a Latino candidate from Florida would generate support for Governor Romney in the Latino community.
New survey data collected by Latino Decisions gives us a glimpse into whether nominating Marco Rubio might have a positive influence on the Latino electorate. These data were collected from Latino registered voters. As such, the findings I discuss below are representative of Latinos who, because they are already registered to vote, are likely to be more politically engaged, and more likely to vote.
Latino Decisions asked a very straightforward question about the potential for Romney to influence the Latino electorate:
"Marco Rubio, a Cuban American Republican Senator from Florida, has been rumored to be on the list of likely nominees for Vice-President. If Mitt Romney selects Senator Rubio as his Vice-Presidential candidate, what effect would it have on your likelihood of voting Republican in the November 2012 presidential election? Would it make you much more likely to vote Republican for President, somewhat more likely, somewhat less likely, or much less likely to vote Republican for President, or have no effect on your vote?"
Figure 1 shows responses to this question among respondents in all of the five states included in the Latino Decisions survey--Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia--and among respondents who live in Rubio's home state of Florida. The responses by Latinos in all five states indicate that nominating Rubio would have little influence on enthusiasm for Romney. Looking at the data collected from Florida, however, there is slightly more enthusiasm for Rubio.
What explains this greater level of enthusiasm for Rubio in Florida? While it might be easy to view Latinos as a pan-ethnic monolith of public opinion, research I have published with political scientist Ben Bishin of the University of California-Riverside shows that Latinos of different ancestries (and particularly Latinos in Florida) view electoral politics differently. To assess whether intra-ethnic diversity might be driving enthusiasm for Rubio in Florida, I broke down the results for the State of Florida presented in Figure 1 by ancestry (see Figure 2). Figure 2 shows responses by Cuban Americans (the largest group at 32%), Puerto Ricans (the second largest, and growing, group at 17%), and respondents of all other ancestries in Florida. The data show greater enthusiasm for Rubio among Cuban Americans in comparison to Latinos of other ancestries.
So, it seems that Florida's Cuban American population helps explain why Latinos in Florida are more bullish on Rubio compared to Latinos in the rest of the country. What explains Cuban Americans' greater level of enthusiasm for nominating Rubio? If you are familiar with Florida politics, this is an old story. In short, contrary to the stereotype of racial and ethnic minorities favoring the Democratic Party, Cuban American voters (and particularly the large population in South Florida) overwhelmingly favor the Republican Party (for an explanation, see the summary presented in my more recent paper with Ben Bishin). Job approval figures for President Obama collected by Latino Decisions reflect this (Figure 3). Among Latinos in Florida, Cuban Americans have a less favorable view of the President than those of other ancestries.
So, the presence of more conservative Cuban Americans in Florida is a likely explanation for why Latinos in Florida are more enthusiastic about Rubio than those in the rest of the nation. The fact that Rubio is Cuban American is of course important here as well. Sylvia Manzano has noted on the Latino Decisions blog that shared ancestry increases interest in political figures among Latinos, and recent research showing that shared ancestry between Latino Mayors and their constituents influences Latino political attitudes.
But what about the specific issues at play in the election for Latinos? Latino Decisions respondents were asked to name up to two important issues facing the community in this election. Table 1 shows that the economy is foremost in the minds of the Latino community in Florida. This makes sense, given the current higher-than-average unemployment rates among Latinos. However, Table 1 shows that immigration is still on the mind of Latinos in Florida, despite this issue being less salient there in comparison to other states.
Since immigration matters to the Latino community in Florida, one reason to bring Rubio on board with the Romney campaign is to shore up the Governor's street credibility on this policy area. That is, with a member of the Latino community at his side, can the Governor sell his immigration policies to the Latino community? Latino Decisions did not specifically ask whether Rubio would help Romney on this issue. However, they did ask for general impressions about the Governor's stance on immigration, which Rubio and Romney appear to agree on. Figure 4 shows that Latinos in Florida, regardless of ancestry, are less enthused about candidate Romney due to his immigration policy. The one exception is Cuban Americans, who are slightly more enthused by Romney's stance on immigration. Again, this could be because Cuban Americans generally have more conservative policy attitudes.
What about the other side of the coin, President Obama's stance on immigration? Figure 5 shows that Latinos of Florida have mixed emotions about the President's policy. A strong majority of the community approves of Obama on immigration. But, a non-negligible percentage is strongly opposed, particularly Cuban Americans (perhaps due to their more conservative preferences) and those of other ethnicities (perhaps due to more liberal preferences). This divergence of opinion among those who are strongly opposed could also be the result of personal experience. Cuban Americans in Florida are less likely to have a friend or family member who is an undocumented immigrant (30%), compared to those of Puerto Rican ancestry (42%); those of other ancestries are more likely to have an undocumented immigrant in their life (55%).
The vocal Cuban American minority in Florida aside, most Latinos in and outside of Florida are not enthused about a Rubio candidacy, both in general and when it comes to the specific issue of immigration. Nominating Rubio would not be a game changer for Romney in winning the hearts and minds of the Latino electorate, not even in the swing state of Florida, the one place where a Rubio candidacy might have mattered to the general election.
This piece was previously published on Latino Decisions.
Casey A. Klofstad is an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, and is a Contributing Analyst for Latino Decisions. His book, Civic Talk: Peers Politics and the Future of Democracy, is now available in paperback. You can follow him on Twitter at @klofstad, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/klofstad