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Although Latino voters have expressed some disappointment with President Obama in the last few months, none of the Republican presidential candidates has been able to captivate or attract the attention of Latinos until now.

latino voters

In other words, for the time being, among the eight candidates, there is no one equivalent to George W. Bush who would attract a significant percentage of the Latino vote.

The new impreMedia/Latino Decisions (IM-LD) poll, cosponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, revealed these results. It also showed these voters are very unfamiliar with the Republican candidates and do not have a favorable image of those candidates they know about.

“Republicans have a great challenge ahead when it comes to the Latino vote,” said Matt Barreto, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and an advisor for Latino Decisions. “This poll shows they must conduct an intensive campaign if they want to attract part of the Latino vote, since for now, the majority of these voters don’t even know them.”

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are among the best known candidates in the group of eight; despite this, 46% have no opinion or have never heard of Romney, and 40% have never heard of Perry. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and apparent favorite to clinch the nomination, is favored by 28% of Latino voters, while 25% have an unfavorable impression of him. The rest do not know who he is or have no opinion. Perry, who as governor of Texas would be the closest to Latinos in the Republican primaries, is someone few of the country’s Latino voters know: 40% of them have no idea who he is. Likewise, his approval level is abysmal and still lower than Romney’s at 22%. His level of disapproval is higher: 39%.

In Texas, a state he has governed for 11 years, Perry has a 37% approval rate from Latinos, a number similar to the one he obtained in his latest re-election in November 2010, when he received 38% of the Texas Latino vote. However, in that state, 49% of Latino voters disapprove of Perry. A majority of analysts has said Republicans should aspire to 40% of the national Latino vote to be able to win certain key states.

“The number 37% is not bad for a Republican as far as the Latino vote,” said Gabriel Sánchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico. “There, Latinos know him better than anywhere else in the country, and are more familiar with the way he governs.”

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Latinos are even less familiar with the rest of the candidates, while their disapproval levels are even higher: 58% have no opinion or have never heard of Michelle Bachmann, and 29% have an unfavorable impression of the Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party representative. Only 13% have a favorable impression. Also, 59% do not know libertarian Ron Paul or have no opinion, while 19% disapprove of him and 16% approve.

And as far as Newt Gingrich, 41% have never heard of him, 32% have a favorable impression and 36% an unfavorable impression. The least known candidates are Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman: 73% do not know or have no opinion of Herman Cain, and 75% do not know or have no opinion of Jon Huntsman. Sarah Palin, who a few days ago announced she will not run, is among the most familiar for Latinos: only 24% said they have never heard of her. However, her disapproval rate is very high: 62% have a very unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable opinion of her (of which 46% are very unfavorable).

“It’s natural for Latinos not to know who the Republican candidates are, because their message does not resound with them. Also, Republicans have not been very proactive in bringing their message to Latinos,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, an analyst and a professor at the University of Southern California.

In Jeffe’s opinion, the Latino vote is not important for Republicans in the primaries, with the possible exception of the state of Florida. “Frankly, some of the positions the primary candidates must take to attract Latinos would not be very popular with the Republican base. That base is what matters at this time,” said Jeffe.

Nevertheless, Barreto thinks the recent refusal of at least five Republican candidates to participate in a debate supposedly being organized by the main Spanish television network, Univision, is an ill advised decision for Republicans. “Now the story Latinos are hearing is that the candidates don’t want to get to know them or talk to them,” said Barreto.

METHODOLOGY: LD polled 600 Latino registered voters in October, 2011 in the 21 states with the largest Hispanic populations, representing 95% of the electorate. Those interviewed were selected at random from voters lists. The poll includes interviews conducted via cell phone and land line telephones. The margin of error is +/-4%. The interviews were conducted in English or Spanish at the request of the respondent.

Pilar Morrero

Pilar Marrero

This piece was first published at Latino Decisions.