GOP Needs to Change the Debate to Reach Hispanic Voters

He who frames the debate, wins the debate. It’s time to re-frame the debate on the GOP relationship with Hispanic voters.

Chris Cillizza had an interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post. Titled “The Republican problem with Hispanic voters — in 7 charts” it relies on recent polling to present the GOP’s demographic problem in an easily digestible form. Charts 1-5 establish that the number of Hispanic voters is growing and that they are overwhelmingly identifying with Democrats. I want to pick it up at chart 6 which conveys the source of the problem–the empathy gap:

As I argued in much more detail a few days after the election, the reason the GOP lost has more to do with perceived compassion than it does with specific policies. The chart above supports that idea. Hispanics side with Democrats because they believe Democrats care. More than any policy or technological advantage, this is how Obama won.

This dynamic puts the GOP in a bit of a pickle. How does one express compassion without equating it with opening the government coffers or, in the case of immigration reform, handing Democrats millions of new voters? Alternatively, how can one oppose immigration reform and still convey the message: The GOP cares. And like it or not, this is the message the GOP needs to convey to win Hispanic votes in future elections.

However chart 7 in Cillizza’s rundown points out that immigration is not the only issue Hispanic voters care about. In fact, it’s not even in the top 3:

The top issue according to Pew is education. Hispanic parents, like all parents, want a bright future for their children. And as it happens this is an area where the GOP supports change and Democrats–who are wed to teacher’s unions–support the status quo. Assuming these charts are accurate, it seems that a national campaign focused on the benefits of school choice and school reform could be an issue where the GOP could go on offense and the President would be stuck playing defense.

This possible opening on education reform was pointed out during the election last year but obviously Gov. Romney wasn’t able to capitalize on it. Why not make it an issue now? It’s an issue with appeal to most minority groups who bear the brunt of the nation’s failing schools and, apart from it’s political benefits, it’s something that resonates with the GOP’s core messages about competition and freedom. Plus, taking on the teacher’s unions is something the GOP needs to do to balance state budgets anyway.

There’s a lot of potential upside here but we won’t see any of it so long as we allow the President and the media to keep everyone focused on immigration reform. We need to re-frame the debate in order to win the debate.