At this point in the election's aftermath, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party problem with Latino voters is well documented.
Not only did the GOP's unpopularity among Latinos and other minority voters bar the party from succeeding in 2012, it presents an existential challenge to the party in future contests. Pundits and political insiders will debate for weeks and months over why Romney and Republicans had such difficulty with minority voters in so many contests. Was it "self-deportation?" Was it their position on taxes and the budget? Should the party have run more Spanish-language ads?
One statistic, however, suggests the problem exists at much more of a gut level. The political opinion research firm Latino Decisions has published the results of their comprehensive election eve poll, an alternative to the national exit poll that we typically use to gather data about how people voted.
Nationally, 74 percent of Latino voters said that Romney did not care about Latinos or was outwardly hostile to them, with a whopping 56 percent believing the latter. Compare that to what Latino voters thought of President Obama: 66 percent said he truly cares about Latinos.
In summary: beyond the policy quibbles over immigration and the economy, for many Latino voters the election was about which candidate respected them. Almost as many Latinos said they voted to support the Latino community (36 percent) than did to support the Democratic Party (39 percent). Only 15 percent said they voted to support the Republican Party. Right now, too many Latino voters simply don't believe they have a place in the GOP.
To tell you how costly this phenomenon is for Republicans, Latino Decisions pollsters estimated that if Romney were able to crack the 35 percent mark among Latino voters, Obama would likely lose the popular vote, which would have greatly endangered his chances of winning reelection. Instead, the national exit poll found that he received 27 percent of the Latino vote and Latino Decisions' poll showed him winning just 23 percent.
On a conference call with reporters, Latino Decisions principal Gary Segura said it's clear from the data that a majority of Latinos voters consistently identify with Democrats on issues like immigration and taxes. But the GOP clearly has room to grow with Latinos if they alter their approach. That's especially true on immigration; 31 percent of Latino voters said they would be more likely to vote Republican if the party cooperates in passing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Even though they are U.S. citizens, immigration is not an abstract issue for Latino voters. Sixty percent told Latino Decisions they know a friend, co-worker, or family member who is undocumented.
As the Republican Party debates on how best to appeal to Latino voters, there are many issues to consider. But first and foremost is eliminating antagonistic elements within the party and establishing a basic level of trust within the community. Until that happens, Republicans will be poised to underperform in future elections.