Republican presidential candidates have a lot to gain – or lose – when it comes to their handling of the comprehensive immigration reform measure before Congress, a new poll shows.
According to a survey by pro-immigration groups, Latino voters are actively watching the immigration debate and taking notes on which politicians support reform that includes a path to citizenship and those who do not.
Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington and principal at the polling firm Latino Decisions, said this matters for Republicans with 2016 presidential ambitions because of the political clout of the Hispanic voting bloc.
In 2012, about 11.2 million Hispanic voters cast ballots, a number expected to swell to 12.5 million in 2016, Barreto said in a press call. President Barack Obama won the 2012 election over Republican Mitt Romney by about 5 million votes and he netted 5.8 million from Hispanics. Romney's 27 percent of the Latino vote was a far cry from President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, where he won 44 percent.
The poll tested Hispanic voter opinions on Republicans including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
"None of these Republican candidates are able to eclipse the 30 percent mark when presented with them being opposed to the immigration bill," Barreto said. "But when presented to them being in favor or leading on the immigration bill, they are all able to eclipse 40 percent, so there's quite a significant amount of movement there."
Rubio, who has taken on the largest role in negotiating immigration reform, garners top support from Hispanic voters who say they would vote in a Republican primary. His 29 percent leads Christie at 14 percent, Bush's 13 percent, Ryan's 11 percent and Paul's 9 percent. But many of the Republican candidates are largely unknown by Latino voters, which leaves plenty of room for movement.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton tops the competition. Among Hispanic voters who said they would vote in a Democratic primary, she leads with 65 percent support over Vice President Joe Biden's 11 percent and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro's 6 percent.
Clinton also leads all the GOP candidates in a head to head match-up over wider margins than Biden, who voters would also choose over all the Republicans.
But in a crucial marker, if Rubio, Bush or Ryan were seen as playing a key role in passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, they all could win more than 40 percent of the Latino vote – a threshold many say Republicans must win to take back the White House.
The poll was sponsored by Latino Decisions and America's Voice, pro-immigration reform groups, and surveyed 1,200 Latino voters who cast ballots in 2008 and 2012 from June 20-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent.