04/09/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2012

Conditions Are Right for GOP to Make Big Inroads with Hispanics

The simple truth: politicians of all parties and backgrounds are guilty of viewing Hispanic voters simply as votes to be used, not people to be listened to.

My friends at the Libre Initiative will tell you they think that's wrong. They exist for two purposes: first, to listen to Hispanics and Latinos in America, and then to connect them to Washington so they can be a collective force for change that generates real jobs and real prosperity. But also that the values in the Hispanic community -- like hard work, earned success and family commitment -- are the values America needs to get moving again. Libre is working to activate the community to lead America to better days.

We so often hear that Republicans have lost ground with Hispanic voters. But the real story is that Hispanic voters feel like both political parties -- Republicans and Democrats -- are more interested in securing their community's votes than in solving their problems. The difference is that lately, Republicans may at least be trying to do something about it.

While it's true that much of the immigration rhetoric of the GOP primaries could dampen Republican chances with Hispanic voters, the Administration's woeful handling of the economy has directly hurt Hispanic families in America today.

The numbers tell the story: though they supported Democrats by a massive 2-to-1 margin in 2008, Hispanics are now, at best, ambivalent about the policies at the core of that Party's national agenda. A whopping 85 percent of Hispanics say they are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about Washington's current levels of spending and debt, according to a survey conducted March 13-19, 2012 for the Libre Initiative by The Tarrance Group, a respected DC polling firm. The survey interviewed 500 likely Hispanic voters and has a plus or minus of 4.5 percent.

While the President retains an overall approval rating of 58 percent among Hispanics, much of that support is grounded in his own formidable personal popularity. As people begin to assess the specific concerns that affect their lives, however, cracks are beginning to appear in the foundations of his party's support within this crucial constituency.

Hispanics today face an official unemployment rate of 10.3 percent, a figure significantly higher than the national average of 8.2 percent. Nearly 6 in 10 Hispanic households reported someone out of work at some point in 2011, and the community as a whole is falling into poverty at a faster rate than any other group, according to the Pew Research Center.

More and more, Hispanic households now fear that their most cherished hope - that the next generation will be able to achieve the American dream - is slipping out of reach. Optimism about the future has been overshadowed by doubt.

The worsening economic state of Hispanic households was captured in a recently-completed Libre Initiative survey which found that 51 percent of Hispanic respondents identified jobs and the economy as America's most pressing problem -- lopsidedly more than those who cited education (4 percent), healthcare (3 percent), or even immigration (2 percent).

In light of those facts, perhaps it's not surprising that a majority of respondents (51 percent) believes the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Conditions are right for Republicans to make significant inroads among Hispanics, but only if the GOP gets smarter in its approach to them. How can they do that?

During his two successful presidential campaigns, George W. Bush made a concentrated effort to attract Hispanic votes. He did that by building on the already strong bonds of trust he had forged while Governor of Texas, and by applying significant political capital toward reforming immigration in a way that he knew was unpopular with much of the party's rank-and-file. He also spoke to Hispanic voters in their own channels, investing in an unprecedented GOP outreach effort that featured 15,000 advertisements.

Bush was rewarded in 2004 with as much as 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Since that time, Republicans have struggled to equal Bush's levels of Hispanic support. Without a concerted effort, their inability to capture more Hispanic voters could continue its downward spiral in 2012. In 2008, Latino support was decisive in delivering Electoral victories in the four states that put President Obama in the Oval Office -- Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Who will speak to those voters in 2012? Is the GOP ready and willing to seize the opportunity?

The Libre Initiative survey showed that widespread disillusionment with the administration's economic policies presents a unique opportunity for Republicans to pick up George W. Bush's 2004 legacy, and in doing so regain the trust of Hispanic voters.

But they'll have to be far more astute in their approach, be more willing to engage Latinos with respect, and to be more prudent in their rhetoric.

The message is clear: stop thinking of Hispanics as simply a pool of votes, and focus on policies that encourage more economic freedom, opportunity, and security. The values of the Hispanic community, family, hard work, and personal responsibility, are Republican values. Hispanics want the same thing as every American: for our country to be a place where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.

If Republicans are willing to invest in listening to Hispanics and demonstrating the value of economic freedom to improving their daily lives, many Hispanic voters will reconsider their traditional loyalty to the Democratic cause this November.