Would Rubio Really Help Romney With Latinos?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has frequently been mentioned as a potential running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Some have argued that part of his appeal would be that, as a Cuban-American, he would help Romney with Latinos, an important demographic group that Romney has struggled to connect with. Daniel Hopkins, professor of political science at Georgetown, found evidence to suggest, though, that Rubio would not help Romney with Latinos outside of Florida.

Latino's are pan-ethnic, Hopkins points out in an article for The Monkey Cage, a political science blog, and this pan-ethnic identity could influence voting patterns. Latinos of Mexican ancestry may view political issues differently than Latinos of Cuban ancestry, for example.

According to the most recent census, 63 percent of Latinos in the United States are of Mexican heritage, 9.2 percent are of Puerto Rican descent, 3.5 percent are Cuban, 3.3 percent are Salvadoran, 2.8 percent are Dominican, and the remainder is divided among the remaining Hispanic countries in Central and South America.

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Cuban and Puerto Rican Latinos are concentrated in Florida, an important swing state, but in the other important Southwestern swing states with a high Latino population -- Colorado, Nevada and (perhaps) Arizona -- Latinos are mostly of Mexican descent.

An important question becomes, then, would Rubio appeal to all Latino ethnic groups in the United States?

To get at this question, Hopkins compared the precinct-level vote change between President Obama's 2008 election and Rubio's 2010 Senate race. Since Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican Americans are concentrated, to some extent, in distinct neighborhoods in Florida, Hopkins was able to compare the voting patterns of the three different Latino groups.

He found that Rubio was able to increase his share of the vote among Cubans and Puerto Ricans (Puerto Ricans even more than Cubans, interestingly), but not among Mexicans.

The results indicate that, if placed on the ticket, Rubio might help Romney with Cubans and Puerto Ricans in Florida, but may not help much with the Mexican Americans concentrated in the Southwest. This is not to say, however, that a Florida win would be insignificant. Under the current electoral college outlook, Florida is a must-win for Romney to win the nomination.

Hopkins warns that the results should be "taken with more than the usual grain of salt." Since the data is precinct-level, the changes could be driven by other groups that are not being studied.

Hopkins hypothesizes that the results could be due to the unique relationship Cubans and Puerto Ricans have to the issue of immigration.

"Notice, too, which groups appear to be influenced: Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens from birth, and Cubans, whose eligibility for political asylum might lead them to approach the contemporary immigration debate from a different angle. Certainly, that's a possibility to examine with individual-level data," Hopkins writes.

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