OPINION

Opinion: Election after election, Hispanic exit polls tend to fall short – here is why

MANSFIELD, TX - NOVEMBER 06:  An election official answers a question for a voter on November 6, 2012 in Mansfield, Texas. Americans across the country participate in Election Day as President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remain in a virtual tie in the national exit polls.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

MANSFIELD, TX - NOVEMBER 06: An election official answers a question for a voter on November 6, 2012 in Mansfield, Texas. Americans across the country participate in Election Day as President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remain in a virtual tie in the national exit polls. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

The late Washington Post prize-winning reporter David Broder shook up the political world 35 years ago with his book “Changing of the Guard: Power and Leadership in America”; in it he correctly predicted the demise of the long-entrenched Democrat Party of the South but missed today’s Hispanic political growth and effect by a million miles.

As brilliant as that book was, as was his Washington Post work, if he were alive today, he would be part of the bulk of non-Hispanic pundits, writers, reporters and professors who simply do not understand Hispanic political effects. His work on Hispanics would flunk the test of reality.

There are 55 million Hispanics in the USA. Hispanics aren’t a race; they are ethnics who can be of any race and have different national origins. Their median national age is 27 while the non-Hispanic population has a median age of 40+. While lagging in education for decades, recent graduating classes of 2012 and 2013 have burst through the 80 percent graduation rate for a historical first and with that they show exponential growth in college attendance.

Hispanic doctorate candidates reflect the growth of total Hispanic college attendance and are second only to Asian-Americans in minority numbers.

My alma mater, San Diego State University, reflects this revolution in Hispanic higher education students. When I entered in 1958, there were 7,000 total students and maybe 50 Hispanics. Today there are 25,000 total students of which 5,000 are Hispanic under-graduate and graduate students.

Taking a macro approach to looking at Hispanics works when one looks at such items as total population, age demographics, geographic distribution, income levels, etc. Where it breaks down, however, is in political analysis.

When one sees political polls or exit polls of Hispanics, one important analytical ingredient is usually missing, to wit: the significant differences between the various “Hispanic” groups that are differentiated by national groups.

For example, most national exit polls of the 2012 presidential election between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney concluded, according to the media paid-for exit polls, that Obama scored 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to 27 percent for Romney. Similar exit poll results were indicated in the 2014 midterm elections.

These numbers are highly misleading because there is no breakdown of the numbers by ethnicity or national grouping.

It has been said that there are more Mexican-origin people within sight of Los Angeles City Hall than all the Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central and South Americans in the United States combined.

Nationally the Pew Research Center reported in 2012 that of the 55 million Hispanics, 35 million are of Mexican origin (65 percent); 4.7 million are Puerto Rican (9 percent), 2 million are Cuban Americans (3.7 percent), 2 million are Salvadorans (3.7 percent), 1.5 million are Dominicans and 1.1 million are Guatemalans. There are 2.8 million other Central and South American origin people as well.

Here is where the political analysis of Hispanics falls apart – those numbers don’t tell the story.

For example, the most loyal Hispanic voters in the country are Democrat Puerto Ricans and Dominicans; they are centered in New York. Some live in New Jersey and Central Florida. Subtract out the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans from the New York and New Jersey votes and both states would go Democrat without Hispanic Democrats.

Florida is different. Those Puerto Ricans have off-set 50 years of Republican domination of South Florida Hispanic votes. Florida is a toss-up state in presidential elections because of the Puerto Ricans. Thus, they are important in Florida as they are not in New York, result wise.

On the other hand, in last November’s Florida Governor’s race, Miami-Dade Cubans 40-plus aged constituents voted 70 percent for Republican Rick Scott giving him a 60,000 vote statewide victory out of millions cast.

Out west, Hispanics voted heavily for Republican Governor Brian Sandoval in Nevada, where Obama won in 2012. Republican Sandoval won with 70 percent of the vote. In New Mexico, Susana Martinez won reelection in a state Obama carried twice; she won with 56 percent of the vote. Hispanic exit polls in Nevada and New Mexico were not done.

Nationally for Congress, Hispanics gave 62 percent of their votes to Democrats and 36 percent to Republicans (2014).

Several individual state races showed significant Hispanic difference from the national results with the differences based on Mexican origin. The larger the number of Hispanic voters of Mexican origin, the higher the GOP vote.

However, in some states GOP Hispanic numbers substantially exceed the averages. In the 2014 Georgia Senate race, 42 percent of Hispanics (mostly Mexican) voted Republican, 47 percent voted Republican for Governor. In Texas, mostly Mexican voters gave 47 percent of their vote to Republican Senator John Cronyn and 44 percent to Republican Gregg Abbott for Governor.

Analysts and scholars need to study the various groups within the overall Hispanic community in future looks at Hispanic votes. If they don’t, national exit polls are meaningless especially when looked at by political parties in developing strategies for the burgeoning Hispanic

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Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant. He was formerly with the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate. Contreras's books are available at Amazon.com

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