Florida political experts are warning that an aging Cuban community and the corresponding growth of pro-Democratic Latinos suggest that, without changes, Republican presidential candidates will have difficulty winning the state in future national elections.
And despite a new Quinnipiac poll showing Newt Gingrich surging in the Florida GOP primary, he might have a harder time winning Florida in a national election than Mitt Romney.
When it comes to analyzing the Latino vote, a recent poll conducted by Latino Decisions for ABC News/Univision underscores this dynamic. In current head-to-head matchups, Obama would win the Florida Latino vote, 50 to 40 percent, against Romney, or 52 to 38 percent against Gingrich. By comparison, President George W. Bush won 56 percent of the Florida Latino vote in 2004.
Historically, when Republican presidents have won Florida, they have done so with the strong support of Cuban-Americans in Florida. Demographic changes in the state suggest, though, that may no longer be the case, according to Philip Williams in a Jan. 25 interview with The Christian Post.
Moreover, the Republican brand has been hurt by "anti-immigrant rhetoric" from some Republican politicians, according to Williams, especially from Tea Party rallies. In a July 21 interview, Dee Dee Garcia Blase, founder of Somos Republicans, a Latino Republican organization, said the Tea Party is like "kryptonite" to the Latino community.
Williams noted that Republicans could try to increase their support among Latinos by fielding Latino candidates. This is likely one reason that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential nominee. Blase pointed out, however, that Rubio is Cuban-American, and Cuban-American politicians do not always have strong ties to non-Cuban Latino communities.
The Republican presidential debate on Thursday will be co-sponsored by CNN, The Republican Party of Florida and The Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican organization devoted to building support for the party among Latinos. The debate will focus, in part, on issues affecting Latino communities and will be televised on CNN's Spanish language channel.
The theme of the debate is no surprise, because the changing Latino graphic in Florida suggests that the Republican presidential candidate will be unable to win that state without increasing outreach to Latino voters.
Williams explained that Cuban-Americans, who are traditionally Republican, comprise a smaller part of the state's Latino population than they have in the past. In 1990, Cubans were 43 percent of the Latino population in Florida and in 2000 they were 31 percent. In the most recent census (2010), those of Cuban descent were 29 percent of the Latino population, while Puerto Ricans were 20 percent, followed by Mexicans (15 percent), South Americans (16 percent) and Central Americans (10 percent). Plus, non-Cuban Latinos, who support Democrats in higher numbers, comprised a majority of the electorate in the 2008 election.
Additionally, young Cuban-Americans do not vote Republican as often as their parents and grandparents. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain won every age group of Cubans in Miami-Dade county except one – 18 to 29 year olds. President Obama won 65 percent of those young Cuban voters.
Williams is professor of political science and director of the Center for Latin America Studies at the University of Florida. He also directs the Latin American Immigrants in the New South Project. As part of that project, Williams has studied Latino immigrants in Florida.