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Published: 7/25/2013

Immigration bill vote could sway Latinos, poll says

Lobbying group: Republicans could flip low approval rating

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Speaker of the House John Boehner’s refusal to allow Congress to vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill has earned the Republican Party a 65 percent disapproval rating among Latino voters in 24 congressional districts, according to a poll released Wednesday.

If Mr. Boehner, a Republican from the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, Ohio, would at least allow the proposed Senate immigration reform bill to move forward for a bipartisan vote, 62 percent of midterm voters would feel more favorable toward House Republicans, according to the poll conducted by Latino Decisions, which conducts political opinion research, and America’s Voice, a lobbying organization for immigration reform.

Thirty-eight percent of Latino voters said they would be more likely to vote for Republican congressional candidates if they supported the bill, the same poll found.

“How John Boehner chooses to play this could have a huge impact on the history of how Latinos vote in the future,” said Gary Segura, the chairman of Chicana/​o-Latina/​o studies at Stanford University, who presented the research and poll results Wednesday. “If you’re Republican and think there’s no way you can get Latino votes, you might want to rethink that strategy. There is room for growth.”

The poll, conducted from July 13 to 20, surveyed 800 Latino voters, half of whom voted in the 2012 presidential election but not in the midterm, in 24 Republican-held congressional districts, including two in Ohio, to see how the issue of immigration reform — and the two parties’ handling of it — could affect key races in 2014, Frank Sharry, executive director for America’s Voice, said during a news conference.

“We wanted to look at areas where Latino voters will have a significant impact in the future,” Mr. Sharry said. “We wanted to see what a lot of Latino voters stand on issues.”

What they found is that immigration is overwhelmingly one of the top two issues for 59 percent of Latino voters polled. The economy, 24 percent, and education reform, 14 percent, were the only others in double digits. The polling concentrated on districts where Latino voters have the potential to play key roles in deciding future elections, Mr. Sharry said.

In Ohio that includes the 16th House District, now held by Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth), and the 6th District, where Rep. Bill Johnson (R., Marietta) is currently seated. Though neither district has large numbers of Latino voters, recent elections show enough to swing congressional election outcomes, Mr. Segura said.

Neither Mr. Renacci nor Mr. Johnson could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Robert Torres, executive director of Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said poll results should make clear to both Republicans and Democrats what’s on Latino voters’ minds, and reiterates what many people already know: The Latino vote is strengthening at a time when Republicans’ political power is waning.

Republicans like Mr. Renacci, who has championed farm-worker and immigrant issues, already know the importance of diversity, Mr. Torres said.

“I worked with him when he was a Stark County commissioner,” Mr. Torres said. “His district has many rural and farming communities. This region is well-known for its farming, nursery operations, and poultry processing plants. Hence, the Latino immigrant population is critical to its operation.”

Other concerns mentioned in the poll included health care, gun control, taxes, family values, race relations, and discrimination against Latinos.

Wednesday’s poll results clearly indicate high stakes for both parties, Mr. Segura said.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have impressed Latino voters on their handling of immigration, Mr. Segura said.

House Democrats received a 50 percent approval rating on their handling of immigration issues from Latino voters, while 39 percent rated their performance as poor. The 64 percent disapproval rate for Republicans’ handling of immigration policy was accompanied by approval from just 22 percent. “It would be a train wreck for the GOP if they tried to block reform,” Mr. Segura said.

One myth the poll helped expose is that Latinos reliably vote for Democrats, he said.

“There’s a myth among some Republicans that it doesn’t matter how they vote because they’re going to vote Democrat anyways,” Mr. Segura said. “... But Democrats need to deliver or Latinos will lose faith. They’ve been waiting a long time.”

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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