GOP Rhetoric Off-Putting to Latino Voters, says Vanderbilt Prof

Candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination are likely hurting their electoral chances by making hard-line pronouncements about immigration reform, according to Efren Perez, an assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Speaking to the website Research News at Vanderbilt, Perez said he has gathered survey data showing the extent to which the GOP candidates’ anti-immigration rhetoric alienates Latino voters. He said the research will be presented in March at the Western Political Science Association conference in Portland, Maine, but he shared some key findings with the Vanderbilt website.

Perez noted it might pay off for Republicans to more actively court Latinos, as the increasing wealth of this demographic could make it more sympathetic to the GOP platform.

“There are many third- and fourth-generation Latinos who have very little connection to Latin America anymore,” Perez said. “These folks are very integrated into American society. They are business owners and might be more responsive to Republican ideas and principles.”

However, Perez went on to say that the “xenophobic discourse” of the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls is eroding Latino support.

While Perez did not provide an example of the kind of rhetoric he was referring to, instances are not hard to come by; Perez might have pointed to Herman Cain’s suggestion, which the Republican presidential candidate later said was made in jest, to build an electric fence along the Mexican border that would kill immigrants who touched it.

Perez said former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney might be the Republican candidate best positioned to appeal to Latinos, given that his immigration stance has been moderate in the past. Romney could be successful by making an argument that market forces should determine acceptable levels of immigration to the United States, Perez suggested.

Latinos comprised 9.5 percent of all eligible voters in the 2008 presidential election, up from 8.2 percent in 2004, according to Pew Research.