The Republican presidential candidate in 2016 could win over 40 percent of the Latino vote, but only if an immigration reform bill passes, a poll by Latino Decisions suggests.
For the July 1 poll of 1,200 Latinos who voted in the previous two presidential elections, half of the respondents were asked if the they would vote for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) without any mention of immigration reform. The other half were asked about their support of the Republican candidates after mentioning those candidates' support for immigration reform. Support for the candidates increased significantly with the immigration prompt.
The prompt for Rubio read, "Currently the U.S. Congress is debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. Republican Marco Rubio played a key role in helping to pass this bill and with Rubio's leadership undocumented immigrants receive legal status and a path to citizenship."
Without the prompt, the poll shows Rubio losing the Latino vote if he were running against Hillary Clinton (73 to 21 percent) or Joe Biden (60 to 28 percent). With the prompt, though, 54 percent of Latinos, including 50 percent of those who voted for Obama, are very likely or somewhat likely to vote for him.
For Bush, two different prompts were used. One noted that he "has been one of the strongest supporters of immigration reform," and mentions direct quotes of him saying positive things about immigrants. A different prompt mentioned Bush's shift in his position when he said he supported a path to legal status but not a path to citizenship for current unauthorized immigrants.
With the prompt quoting Bush saying he does not support a path to citizenship, 28 percent said they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote for him. With the prompt quoting Bush saying positive things about immigrants, 47 percent say they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote for him, a 19 percentage point increase.
Two different prompts were also used for Ryan. One quoted Ryan saying, "Illegals can get some sort of legal status, but not full citizenship." Another asked respondents to imagine that Ryan had played a key role in getting an immigration reform bill passed that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Ryan received 29 percent Latino support with the first prompt. That support would increase 15 percentage points, to 44 percent, the poll suggests, if Ryan were to help usher an immigration reform bill through the House that includes a path to citizenship.
Latinos have become one of the most important groups of voters in the nation. They are one of the fastest growing of any race or ethnic group. Plus, their numbers are concentrated in some of the states with the largest number of Electoral College votes, such as California, Florida, New York and Texas, and some swing states, such as Colorado, Florida and Virginia.
At a March 15 speech during the Conservative Political Action Conference, Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said immigration is not the most important issue for Latinos, but Republicans will not be heard without appropriately addressing the issue.
"If we (Republicans) don't get this issue right, they're just not going to listen to us," Aguilar said.
The poll's margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.