In anticipation of Latino USA‘s upcoming show about the U.S. Latino vote (send us your voice memos), I plan to share daily historical examples of American politics and Latinos. My first post was all about Jackie Kennedy campaigning in Spanish. The second post highlighted the country’s first Latino senator. This is my third post.

For all those who follow and dissect presidential elections and numbers, Pew Hispanic’s Latino Voters in the 2012 Election (Obama 71% Romney 27%) is required reading. Whenever people ask me if the U.S. Latino vote even matters in presidential elections (yes, they are still people who ask this question in 2015 and yes, they are current candidates who don’t think it matters), I always turn the Pew’s first chart on page 4 of the report. It shows the breakdown of the U.S. Latino vote from 1980–2012. While every Democratic candidate has won the majority of the U.S. Latino vote since 1980, when Republican candidates can get 30% or more of that vote to neutralize the Democratic margin, the GOP can pretty much secure the White House. The only outlier to that rule was John McCain’s 31% take in 2008, when he still lost to Barack Obama and the “Sí se puede” narrative (a whole different post).


The GOP has been trending down ever since George W. Bush’s 2004 Latino vote percentage peaked at 40%, which came just two cycles after Bob Dole’s 1992 performance bottomed out at 21%, the worst showing with U.S. Latino voters from any presidential candidate since 1980. Ironically, Bill Clinton’s 1996 72% win (higher than Obama’s 2012 numbers) came at a time when Clinton painted himself as more of a border hawk than Dole.

If Republicans can get 30%-35% of the U.S. Latino vote in 2016, history would show that their chances to take back the White House are strong. So where do the current crop of GOP candidates stand with U.S. Latino voters? A recent NBC/Telemundo poll presented at the end of September tried to address part of the issue. The poll asked the following question: And, if the election for president were held today, and (ROTATE) [GOP CANDIDATE NAME] were the Republican candidate and Hillary Clinton were the Democratic candidate, for whom would you vote?

Jeb Bush 32% Hillary Clinton 60%

Donald Trump 17% Hillary Clinton 72%

Ben Carson 28% Hillary Clinton 63%

Carly Fiorina 24% Hillary Clinton 68%

The poll also presented a scenario between Trump and Bernie Sanders:

Donald Trump 17% Bernie Sanders 71%

Surprisingly, the poll did not include Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz —two Cuban American candidates— as options. A new AP-GfK poll from this week reported that Rubio is viewed favorably by 23% of U.S. Latino voters, as opposed to Trump, who has an 11% favorability rating. Cruz is not even part of the mix.

If Bush were to remain in the race (last night’s debate performance in Colorado didn’t help him), he is still viewed as the most favorable with U.S. Latinos, but with Rubio being seen by many as the candidate who won the Colorado debate, will the Cuban American candidate find more appeal with Bush’s U.S. Latino base? That is a question to follow.

Another question is whether the 30%–35% guidepost will be enough for Republicans. A polling group whose key members are now working for the Hillary Clinton campaign will tell you that 42% is the new threshold for the GOP. That number might be too high (unless the “Trump effect” results in higher Latino turnout), but it is safe to conclude that if the GOP does not improve on Romney’s 27% 2012 numbers and starts heading towards 1996 Bob Dole numbers, the Democrats will win another four years in the White House.

14 thoughts on “The Latino Vote in Presidential Races: 1980–2012

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