The Hispanic vote, both parties say, is still up for grabs, and consultants are scrambling to shop their services to each side as they ramp up efforts to win more of the fast-growing and increasingly influential voting demographic.
A general lack of support for immigration reform, inflammatory rhetoric from a few party firebrands, and dubiously tenable ideas such as “self-deportation” has sent the GOP’s support from Hispanics lower and lower since George W. Bush’s presidency.
With immigration reform stalled, though, some Republicans sense a clear opportunity. An end-of-the-year Gallup poll found that Hispanics’ approval of President Obama dropped 23 points in 2013, the biggest plunge—almost twice the national average—among major subgroups tracked by the firm in the previous 12 months. Those numbers could translate to an opportunity for consultants like Leslie Sanchez, a Republican who recently launched Aqui2 AdX, Inc., a data analytics and digital-media advertising firm.
“The core of these voters is changing as they move into the middle class,” Sanchez says. “They’re increasingly frustrated with both parties and party labels. And there is a consistent data point that Latino voters will grow into split ticket voters.”
Sanchez’s firm runs what she calls a “Latino digital ad exchange,” which puts consumer ads onto the mobile devices of Latinos. The data from the consumers’ interactions with this online advertising, paired with their social media and other online activity, could give her firm enough data points to chart attitudinal behavior.
“Your attitudes on things affect about 80 percent of your decision-making,” she says, adding that using attitudinal behavior to predict outcomes “is much more accurate in determining which way a voter is likely to go.”
Sanchez, who’s courting political clients, is pitching something that’s eluded both parties: putting targeted messaging in front of persuadable Latino voters who, as they switch between English and Spanish-language media, can be difficult to pin down.
Targeting is only half the problem for the GOP. After Gov. Chris Christie signed a New Jersey Dream Act to allow for in-state tuition for undocumented students, the Republican was attacked by some on the right for giving benefits to “illegal aliens.” If Christie runs for president in 2016, in Sanchez’s view, he can overcome Latinos’ distaste for the GOP brand, because—to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan—the message is the medium. Latinos, she says, “are the only community that skipped the desktop.”
Instead of following the last 20 years of middle income family trends and purchasing PCs, they went right to tablets, smartphones and laptops. “Latinos hyper-index on the use of mobile,” she says. “Young Latinos are using mobile at a higher percentage than non-Hispanic whites. It’s the predominant way they communicate.”
As a result, Sanchez says, “targeted messaging on issues Latinos feel are important that are delivered by a single candidate are going to be much more effective at getting past the noise of the national message, which is inconsistent at best and harmful at worst.”
Some pollsters on the right believe that spending money on message targeting to Latino voters isn’t a great use of resources. Regardless of targeting techniques, their thinking goes, the party’s broader message will get in the way.
“It is true that immigration is not the most important issue to the Latino community,” says Dan Judy, a GOP pollster with North Star Opinion Research. “It is way down the list, after the economy and healthcare and jobs and education—issues that are important to all Americans. But where the Republicans have run into trouble is the tone on immigration. Advocating for self-deportation is not exactly what’s going to enamor you to a Latino voter.”
Without reassurances to offer on immigration, GOP candidates still have a hard sell with Latinos.
“When Latino voters start distrusting you on the immigration issue, they start distrusting you on a lot of other issues as well,” Judy says. “If they think that a candidate is nativist, or anti-Hispanic or anti-immigration, they’re not going to want to vote for that candidate regardless of whether or not they agree with them on education policy or Obamacare.”
Still, for political professionals looking to corner the Latino consulting market, it can be a difficult proposition. That’s what John Nienstedt learned after launching the Latino-focused polling firm Latino Edge Research with Hector Barajas last year.
“It’s like everything. Some good reaction. Other times it’s not,” Nienstedt says. That said, Democratic consultants also see new openings in the market.
“The growing Latino market with their growing political clout is making them a valuable target for not just political campaigns but businesses,” says Roger Salazar, who recently left a position at Mercury LLC to launch ALZA Strategies—his own Latino-focused shop. “I do believe it is a strongly under-served market.”
Sean J. Miller is a contributing editor to Campaigns & Elections magazine.