News Column

Who Holds the Hispanic Card?

Sep 5 2000 1:50PM

--> By Joel Russell

September 2000 - A pair of polls indicate that Vice-President Al Gore will win more Hispanic voters than Texas Governor George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, but he holds a narrow edge when judged by the Hispanic appeal of previous Democratic candidates for the presidency.

In July, polling firm Hispanic Trends Inc. released results showing Mr. Gore with a 22 percentage-point lead over Mr. Bush among Hispanics. That sizeable advantage shrinks when compared to President Bill Clinton's 50 percent margin of victory in 1996 and his 35 percent edge in 1992. The poll, conducted for Vista magazine, shows Mr. Bush with a clear lead among Cuban American voters, while Mr. Gore leads among other nationality sub-segments.

Another poll by newspaper publisher Knight Ridder shows Mr. Gore outdistancing his Republican rival by 16 points in the race for the Hispanic electorate. Although 60 percent of the Hispanic voters sampled identify themselves as Democrats, slightly less than 50 percent say they would vote for Mr. Gore or are leaning toward him. And while only 20 percent of those polled identify themselves as Republicans, 34 percent intend to vote for Mr. Bush or are leaning that way.

The partisan battle over Hispanic statistics began in January, when a national survey by Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake showed Hispanics favoring Mr. Bush by a 51 percent to 38 percent margin. Later, the Bush campaign announced figures showing that their man received 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 1998 Texas gubernatorial race. Gore supporters, including Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Joe Andrews, have denounced the Texas numbers as bogus, citing other polls that turned up much lower figures.

Then in May, Al Cardenas, president of the Republican Party of Florida, declared that Mr. Bush needed to win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to get into the White House. The recent polls point to that goal as realistic: Mr. Bush already has a solid 32 percent of the Hispanic vote according to the Vista poll, and 34 percent according to Knight Ridder. The same polls show Mr. Gore with 54 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of the Hispanic vote.

Why this fondness for a Republican presidential candidate? Analysts note how Mr. Bush has managed to distance himself from the policies of former California Governor Pete Wilson, who sponsored statewide propositions banning government benefits to illegal immigrants (Proposition 187), affirmative action (Prop. 209), and bilingual education (Prop. 227). A poll in early 2000 by the Tomás Rivera Institute found that 53 percent of Hispanic voters in California cited resentment against Prop. 187 as an important factor in their vote this year. By pursuing a course of "compassionate conservatism," Mr. Bush has gained support among Hispanics. His geographic strength in Texas and Florida, where his brother Jeb Bush is governor, also strengthens his cause.

Another explanation for Mr. Bush's popularity focuses on money. According to online magazine Politico (, Democratic Party sources estimate that the Republicans will outspend them 2-to-1 in Hispanic market advertising and promotion. That fulfills the vision of Jim Nicholson, Republican National Committee chairman, who in January promised "an unprecedented, multimillion-dollar campaign to compete for the trust of the Hispanic community." Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, co-chair of the DNC, wrote a response to Mr. Nicholson, stating: "We appreciate your party's efforts to spend money on Hispanic outreach efforts. However, we believe the best way for your party to attract more Hispanic voters is to change your policies to reflect what our community believes in."

Whether or not Mr. Bush has won the battle for Hispanic votes, he seems to be winning the larger war for the White House. In late July, both a Los Angeles Times poll and a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll put him ahead by a 5-point margin (44 percent to 39 percent, and 47 percent to 42 percent, respectively). But with a 3-point margin of error, the battle is too close to call and looks to remain heated until November 7.

Source: Hispanic Business magazine

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