GUEST POST: What Conservatives are Doing Wrong with Hispanics, and How to Fix it

Nov 29, 2012
10:41 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sam and Brittney asked us if we would publish their white paper as a blog post. We agreed, since this site is always open to publishing different viewpoints and perspectives. This is a GUEST POST and we will be following up with our thoughts about this later this week. Here is more information about the authors:

Samuel A. Rosado is a young attorney residing in New Jersey. He served as Executive Director of the Republican Hispanic Assembly of New Jersey in 2010, and has been a freelance contributor and writer on Hispanic issues and engagement for Politic365, The Daily Grito, and Misfit Politics. Follow him on twitter at @sarosado.

Brittney Morrett currently works promoting economic freedom to US Hispanic youth with a non-partisan, non-profit. In the past she has worked for the the Leadership Institute and the Center for a Free Cuba. She has spoken at events and universities across the country on youth and Hispanic outreach. Follow her on twitter at @bmorrett.

What Conservatives are Doing Wrong with Hispanics, and How to Fix it
The 2012 elections were a wake-up call to Republicans and conservatives. Many were not expecting Obama to win reelection decisively, much less win at all. While the chorus of blame and finger-pointing ran rampant on television, radio, the blogosphere and social media, one underlying issue was being commonly accepted: the GOP and conservatives must reverse the devastating trend with the Hispanic vote.

Since George W. Bush’s peak of receiving 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the GOP has been hemorrhaging support from this key electorate, with Romney receiving an embarrassing 27% of the Hispanic vote in his defeat. Meanwhile, the Hispanic electorate is likely to double by 2030 to a potential 40 million Latinos eligible to vote.

This is a primer not to place blame or say “I told you so.” This is a plan that is meant to be a comprehensive starting guide for GOP insiders, politicians, and grassroots conservatives to address the problems we face with earning Hispanic vote, while providing specific, targeted solutions. These are substantive strategies which can and should begin as soon as possible. There is no quick fix to this issue. It will take 4 years of dedication and hard work to win back what conservatives lost 8 years ago.

Please remember that we are promoting conservatism because it is best for everyone and not just for votes alone. When we operate to just win votes, it is obvious and this is how we lose people and communities. Although we are often criticized for not being compassionate, we are compassionate and we need to show it in our efforts. This will take four years in the short-run but our efforts should be continuous in the long-run.

For each issue/problem we highlight, we will point out whom among the movement needs to hear it the most; whether it be GOP elections insiders at the local, state, or national level, current GOP politicians, or the conservative grassroots movement.

I. Ground Game or Lack Thereof (Everyone)

At its core, the biggest problem the GOP and conservatives have with Hispanics and minority groups in general is a lack of a ground game. The GOP lags behind the Democrats because for years, the middle-aged to elderly white voting class has been the most reliable voting bloc, and they have traditionally voted for Republicans. Therefore, conservatives and the GOP have never had the need for a major ground effort to bring them to the polls. The changing demographics in the United States necessitate a concerted ground effort with the GOP.

Ignoring Urban Outreach is No Longer an Option

A subset on the issue is the seeming fear of the urban outreach. The GOP and conservatives must accept they are going to have to do the hard work and reach out to Hispanics and other minority groups in what are generally Democrat strongholds: large cities and urban areas. Facts show more and more people are moving towards the cities, and the GOP is running out of rural and suburban voters to engage with. In addition, these urban areas are where the vast majority of Hispanics and other minorities live. If conservatives and the GOP do not begin to set up an infrastructure now, we will not win in 2016.

Redefining the “Likely Voter”

In addition to moving to the cities, the movement needs to break from the conventional wisdom of what a “likely voter” is among Hispanics. For whites, the “likely voter” is over 40 with a college education, and a middle class income or higher and who have voted previously. For Hispanics, the rules are different. The median age of the Hispanic voter in 2012 was 27. Hispanics are disproportionately poor, attain less education, and because of their youth, many are either 1st or 2nd time voters. Focusing only on the number of Hispanics who match the “likely voter” makeup among whites will not be enough to make a dent in the Democrat’s steep majority. Therefore, in order to gain success in this unfamiliar territory, we must acknowledge the distinct cultural differences that exist and lay out a plan that reflects those distinctions.

Finally, there is an overwhelming distrust of Republicans among Latinos – especially Latino youth, many of which did not immigrate to this country but were born here. They don’t see conservatives in their communities, but they see liberals on a daily basis. How can this be fixed?

Show Up!

The simple answer is Republicans need to start showing up at events and in the community. The difficult answer is it requires investment of time, effort, and leg work. It would be wise for campaigns and local GOP offices to keep track of cultural festivals in the area and reserve a booth in order to disseminate information. These are perfect venues for voter registration drives!

GOP candidates need to be appearing at these events because we guarantee the Independent and Democrat candidates already do. There are plenty of websites that a Google search will turn up that list these local cultural events in your area. If you are unable to find these events in Google, you can also seek out towns or neighborhoods with large Hispanic populations and go to the local town hall/community center/library to find calendars or flyers for events. Another option is to search for local Hispanic organizations. For example, there's a Puerto Rican Association in Dallas. Not only do these organizations hold their own events, you can ask to speak at group meetings.

Don’t just attend these events – hold them! If you are a GOP office or a local conservative group, hold cultural events or utilize Latino cultural celebrations to engage the community. For example, hold a family friendly 3 Kings Day Block Party at a local school with booths, food, dancing, and performances. For a more educational twist have an event promoting freedom on Jose Marti’s birthday. These are great ways to unite people while also having fun.

When phone banking and canvassing, go into the urban neighborhoods! One consistently sees liberal candidates going door to door in black and Latino neighborhoods but never conservatives. How can conservatives expect minorities to vote conservative if they are never exposed to conservative principles? Go to the bodega on the corner and explain how free market principles help his store. Go to the single mom working at Denny’s and tell her how ObamaCare is going to cost her the full time job there so she will have to get a second job. We guarantee you no one is saying these things to them right now.

How do we know? If you looked at GOP walk-books during the campaign they simply skip over certain neighborhoods. Instead their books and calls focus on getting the base out instead of possibly expanding it. Fine, in an election year that makes sense – but now is the time to lay down the groundwork so that in 2014 and 2016 more minorities will be part of that potential base.

Community Service

Have some free time on a Saturday? Take your family to do volunteer work or help a charity that focuses on the Latino community. This is a great way to give back, show compassion, stick to our cherished idea of private charity, and make connections in your local Latino communities. Hispanics are disproportionately affected by high unemployment, poverty rates similar to those in Latin America, and lack of quality education.

Know Your Voter

With the success of the Obama campaign, it is now more important than ever that the party and grassroots organizations know who the potential voters are to the last detail. This realization is especially critical with the Hispanic population. Overall culture, traditions, political priorities, and even dialect of Spanish differ among Hispanic nationalities, so do your research prior to making those initial phone calls and setting up that first booth.

Also, realize that Hispanics are a young demographic and that Latino youth may not find ACDC cool – they may prefer artists like Jay-Z, and Wisin y Yandel, they may not. Turn to more creative mediums like spoken word, music, and dance when attempting to engage Latino youth. Become more culturally aware – pick up your local Hispanic newspaper and look through the events section, follow some conservative Latinos on twitter, and engage the Hispanics around you.

II. Stop Throwing Out Nothing But Spanish TV Ads and Start Engaging Spanish Media (GOP Insiders, Politicians)

Because of the lack of a ground operation, the GOP has left itself to overly rely upon television ads and indirect forms of communication to try and reach the Hispanic audience. The problem is that television ads in general don’t have a very good return on investment, and will reach only a limited audience, especially in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. The way you speak to and spread a message to Hispanics is through direct, personal communication. Not through external and relatively “easy” marketing like television and radio ads.

Furthermore, many of these ads are out of touch and seem out of place. Candidates or spokesmen for them never seem to appear on “black radio” or “Spanish radio” stations. Meanwhile Democrats are consistently giving interviews, talking about pop culture, and more. If any of you watch BET or Telemundo or Univision, you will constantly see liberal ads, speakers, and programs. Most of this is because all media trends heavily left, but this is also in part to lack of effort on our part. We need to be finding ways to tap into the audiences of these stations and getting our message out there.

It should be noted that Hispanics also watch less TV than overall population, but more streaming video online. Blacks watch more TV than any other demographic. Asians watch less traditional TV than any demographic, but more streaming video than anyone else. Therefore, if you wanted to get the Hispanic vote – why weren’t there more web ads? You couldn’t click on YouTube without seeing an Obama ad, but a conservative ad was rare.

Understand the Culture

One of the reasons Marco Rubio has so much cross-over appeal is that not only is he relatable, but he engages the public like a normal person. He listens to 2pac and tweets about his sports teams. President Obama sings Al Green and his wife can dance “the Dougie.” Knowing these things about the candidates make them more real as opposed to another name on a yard sign. No one is saying that candidates have to be rap connoisseurs to win – but it doesn’t hurt to show that you are engaged in pop culture and are human too.

Have a Consistent Media Presence

The solution here for the GOP is to embrace and engage Spanish and minority media outlets, don't just simply purchase airtime. Candidates should be doing interviews on radio and television and appear on the Sunday shows on Univision and Telemundo. Are they biased? Most likely. But has that stopped GOP politicians and pundits from appearing on MSNBC, NBC, etc.? Of course not. Bear in mind that it shouldn't just be Rubio, Martinez, or Labrador doing all this work in Spanish media. Non-Hispanic politicians should be willing and able to go on these venues as well.

III. Using and Speaking Spanish is a Must (Conservative Grassroots)

Going beyond the ads, it appears that there are many in the conservative movement who are antagonistic about the use of Spanish-language media or communication. We hate to break it to some, but while we and many others are of the agreement that English should be the language of government, many Hispanics prefer to speak Spanish within their community. Even those who are bilingual will speak Spanish with family and friends, as well as watch Spanish- language media. Since the end of the Mexican-American War, Spanish has been an integrated language in the United States. We say this only to address the hostilities some conservatives have towards the language. If you are going to reach out to the Hispanic community, Spanish must be a key component of it.

Don’t Assume

On the flip side, don’t assume all Hispanics speak Spanish and don’t assume you have to use the four words you do know in Spanish when speaking to Hispanics. If you only know a few broken phrases in Spanish, it comes off as awkward when you try to use them with someone you know speaks English. Just use common sense. If you knew someone spoke English fluently but was of a French background, would you feel compelled to speak broken French to them? No, so don’t do that to Hispanics either.

How and Where to Utilize Spanish

If you don't speak Spanish, find someone who does to help you out either at events or translations. For the love of everything stay away from Google Translate when transcribing printed materials! If you don't know someone who speaks Spanish, go to your local county courthouse and see if you can find court-approved translators. Many work freelance and ask to hire them to do printed translations. Keep in mind that simple translations are better – they don’t have to be grandiloquent.

IV. The Conservative Grassroots Must Get Involved and Help (Conservative Grassroots)

In addition to not having a presence on the ground, non-Hispanic conservatives have been woefully inadequate at assisting Hispanic conservatives in spreading the message and lending support. Speaking from anecdotal evidence, we and many other Hispanic conservatives have been consistently frustrated by the lack of support from the conservative grassroots and bloggers. When we try to promote an event that is meant to cater to Hispanic conservatives or spreading the conservative message to a Hispanic audience, support from non-Hispanic conservatives with large audiences (whether it be in the form of twitter followers, website audiences, or talk radio listeners) has been minimal at best, or met with hesitation.

This is a trend that must change. Because Hispanic conservatives are greatly outnumbered by Hispanic liberals, we desperately need the support of the grassroots movement help spread the message. At the moment, Hispanic conservatives do not have the infrastructure to communicate on our own.

Commit to Engaging the Community and Lending Your Voice

For talk radio and blogs: start having segments on Hispanics and the Hispanic vote! Bring on representatives from right leaning Hispanic organizations and promote them on your show and website. Offer to write for conservative Hispanic media outlets. We're not asking for every ounce of airtime or site space, we only ask for a committed voice that will support Hispanic engagement, and won't fizzle away when the election becomes a memory. Here is a list of organizations and outlets where you can get started right away:

Conservative or Free-Market Hispanic Organizations

  1. 1  The LIBRE Initiative (@LIBREInitiative): LIBRE is a non-partisan, non-profit that promotes economic freedom to the US Hispanic community. LIBRE grassroots efforts include: small businesses, faith communities, women, and youth efforts. Read more or sign up to volunteer here:

  2. 2  The Hispanic Leadership Network (@HispanicLN): An organization dedicated to promoting center-right issues to the Hispanic community.

  3. 3  The Latino Coalition (@LatinoCoalition):

    1. 4  Republican National Hispanic Assembly (@RNHA): A Republican organization dedicated to promoting GOP platform and conservative ideas to the Hispanic population.

    Conservative Hispanic Media/Advocacy/Communication Outlets

    1. 1  The Americano (@TheAmericano):

    2. 2  Heritage Libertad (@LibertadUSA):

    3. 3  Puentes Research and Communications, Inc.:

    Statistical Analysis of Hispanic Demographics

    1. 1  Pew Hispanic Center (@PewHispanic)

    2. 2  Latino Decisions (@LatinoDecisions) 

    Many of the organizations listed above also have volunteer opportunities, and not just in election time.

    V. The Rhetoric Must Be Addressed – But the Policy Need Not Completely Change (Everyone)

    Immigration Rhetoric

    Immigration is an issue that must be addressed. There’s no going around it. And the biggest problem behind the immigration issue with the GOP and conservatives is the rhetoric used to advocate our position. The GOP/Conservative position has always been the rule of law. In other words, if one is to come to this country to live or work, they must adhere to the proper channels. But the rhetoric, whether or not it is accurately described by the mainstream media, has been among the primary reasons Hispanics are turned off by the GOP. Statements like, “self-deportation,” “deport them all!” and “speak English! English only!” are slogans that are instant turn offs with Hispanics, regardless of whether you try to explain your position or not. It is an instant non-starter.

    We’re not saying those conservatives who support the hardline stance do not have a valid point or that they should cave into the “free and clear amnesty,” but that the manner in which they articulate their position must change. In addition, the conservative position on immigration reform differs among the movement. This is an internal debate that conservatives all around must have.

    Speaking of amnesty, this term needs to be defined. Our immigration system IS in fact broken, hence the reason we have over 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. But calling ANY proposal that MAY allow a small segment of illegal immigrants to obtain legal status (not necessarily citizenship) "amnesty" is another nonstarter with Hispanics. For any reform to pass there will be a give and take, including that dreaded word, “compromise.” But there are issues in which the GOP can use as leverage at the negotiation table. Senators Rubio, Kyl, and Hutchison are some of the conservatives doing great work to find common ground and find a solution agreeable to both sides regarding immigration and the DREAM Act. Conservatives would be wise to throw weight behind them on the issue.

    Conservatives must also shame out and shun any racist elements in our midst. Racists exist in all movements and to say conservatives don’t have any is a lie. Take a look at several of the threats that conservative minorities get from other “conservatives” and you will see what we mean. This racist and harmful rhetoric often includes terms like “anchor babies” and classless jokes about wanting a “free ride” or being janitors or criminals. These hateful people need to be publicly shamed lest they taint the entire movement.

    In addition, embracing or tolerating truly “anti-immigrant” politicians and organizations needs to stop. We refer to has-been politicians like Tom Tancredo and organizations like NumbersUSA and FAIR. They may support the hardline stance like many conservatives, but they go even further: advocating a near full stoppage of ANY immigration to the USA, legal or otherwise. No matter how much you dress it up, the media will eat it alive, and even then, it’s a terrible policy to advocate to begin with. These politicians and groups must be condemned by conservatives and the GOP alike.

    Hispanics are not Single Issue Voters

    We must also note that not all Hispanics have immigration as their number one policy concern. Many are still concerned with issues that everyone else is regardless of ethnicity; the economy, education, healthcare, cost of food and taxes, etc. But immigration is an issue that must be addressed and cannot be ignored. The Democrats would prefer that we DID ignore it so that it can continue to be used as a political football with Hispanic voters.

    Puerto Rico’s Status as an Initiative

    One specific issue that the GOP can utilize and take the initiative on is the status of Puerto Rico. For the first time the island voted made clear the desire to obtain statehood. The ironic aspect of this issue is that the more prominent Hispanic Democrats in the House are hostile towards statehood. The GOP has the opportunity to be champion and advocate for what is a growing Hispanic demographic. The right to self-delineate has been supported for Puerto Rico in the GOP platform for years.

    VI. The Success of Rubio, Labrador, and Martinez is a False Trophy of Hispanic Outreach (Everyone)

    These and most of the other Hispanic Republican politicians were voted in not with Hispanic voters, but with white voters. Getting the Hispanic vote means more than having a Hispanic on the ballot, as recent elections have shown. Marco Rubio didn’t win the overall Hispanic vote in the 2010 election. He was aided with the Cuban vote, but for the more centrist (and growing) Puerto Rican and Dominican electorate, he didn’t get nearly the same amount of support. And in regards to Congressman Labrador, it doesn’t need to be said that he was not voted in with the aid of the “massive” Hispanic electorate in Idaho. In 2012, Ted Cruz did not win the majority of the Latino vote.

    That is not to say that these politicians cannot be utilized in our mission. They can be the policy standard bearers for the GOP in their respective Congressional houses. Rubio has already started with his earlier modified-DREAM Act, and Raul Labrador, though of Puerto Rican descent was an immigration attorney for 15 years before winning his seat in Congress. The fact that they are both Tea Party candidates is also a plus.

    Luis Fortuño Deserves Recognition

    While Rubio and Labrador are just two examples of the many impressive Latinos in the GOP, there are also conservative minorities that are completely glossed over. One of, if not the most successful Governors of the past term was Luis Fortuño from Puerto Rico. He did more to advance fiscal conservatism than almost anyone in the past four years. However, it’s no surprise that most white conservatives don’t even know his name. While we can’t rely on just having Hispanic politicians, we must use them more efficiently as resources.

    But this all gets away from the fact that it takes more than a Hispanic surname to sway Hispanic voters. No one politician or policy change is a quick fix to the serious problem the movement faces.

    VII. The GOP Primary Schedule (GOP insiders)

    One suggestion specifically for the GOP is to take a serious look at its primary schedule. While Florida is third in line with the primary dates and Nevada not far behind, the GOP should look to changing its primary schedule to bring in states with growing Hispanic populations front and center. Why is Texas, a reliably red state with a substantial Hispanic population holding its primary in March? States like Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia should move their primaries towards the front of the pack, thereby requiring primary candidates to acknowledge and engage those growing Hispanic populations.


    Trying to keep this as short yet comprehensive as possible, there are several problems with the GOP’s outreach to Hispanics. However, there are countless solutions. Start by realizing that your definition of outreach – may not be what is needed. Realize that not all of the pundits and talking heads have the answers and turn to people who are actually part of the demographic you are trying to reach. There are several conservative Latinos who should be on conservative radio, featured in conservative publications, and used as tools to engage the Latino community – but instead you see the same commentators regardless of the issue.

    The Latino vote, regardless of what the media says, is an opportunity we can no longer ignore or approach half-heartedly. Latinos are hard-working people who gave up their lives in their home countries to risk everything for a piece of the American Dream. Appeal to that passion for life, the yearning for success, and the traditional values that celebrate family and community. Conservative principles are more beneficial for Latinos, and for everyone, than liberal ideology. We just need to put in the coordinated effort to make that crystal clear.

    This piece is a collaboration from Brittney Morrett and Samuel Rosado, with contributions by Michelle Lancaster and Ben Domenech. The views expressed here are the personal views of the authors and do not speak for their employers or any organizations of which they may be affiliated. Brittney and Samuel live on the east coast. For more information on how to get involved in your city or help with Hispanic outreach, contact them at and You can also reach them via Twitter at @BMorrett and @SARosado.