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The GOP Is Botching the Hispanic Vote

The Republican National Committee canceled the only debate scheduled to air on Spanish-language television.
(Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

From the beginning, the battle for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has been a lesson in mayhem. Examples abound: Donald Trump's inflammatory remarks against immigrants; Ben Carson's stance against evolution; and, most recently, the Republican National Committee's decision to suspend the final debate, which was scheduled to air on NBC and its subsidiary, Telemundo. This would have been "the only Republican debate scheduled to air on Spanish-language television," as Newsweek's Taylor Wofford reported. The RNC, it seems, is attempting to send a message to the other major networks by dropping its partnership with NBC. But by further limiting the party’s speaking platform to the growing numbers of Hispanic voters in the United States, the RNC's move will only serve as a disservice to their own candidates as November 2016 draws nearer.

The RNC's decision to cut ties with NBC (the owner of CNBC and Telemundo) comes in response to recent criticisms over its handling of the Republican debate in October, where the moderators drew as much attention for their remarks as the participants. "On Twitter, four of the top five moments involved times when candidates criticized the moderators or the media," Politico's Hadas Gold reported. Perhaps New Jersey Governor Chris Christie summed it up best: "Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us and we're talking about fantasy football?"

The RNC's move will only serve as a disservice to their own candidates as November 2016 draws nearer.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. has been climbing for decades, reaching a high of 55.4 million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. By 2050, Hispanics are expected to account for more than a quarter of the nation's population. This means the number of Hispanic voters will only rise: A report from the Pew Hispanic Center on the 2012 election found that Hispanics make up a small, but increasing, percentage of the electorate; in 2004, they accounted for four percent of votes, but by 2012 that number rose to 10 percent.

The report also found that Hispanics came out in support of President Obama over Mitt Romney by a wide margin, supporting the general assumption that the population tends to lean Democratic. But researchers studying Hispanic turnout and partisanship in mid-term elections have found that the group's allegiance to the Democratic party is hardly set in stone. In 2011, social scientist Norman Nie wrote for Pacific Standard about the historical parallels to the current influx of Hispanic immigrants and the political implications of their entrance into U.S. politics:

The large influx of Hispanic immigrants into the United States over the past four and a half decades resembles—in terms of magnitude and proportion—the great immigration wave from southern and eastern Europe that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like today's Hispanic population, a large body of research shows, these earlier immigrants possessed limited experience with U.S. politics and received few partisan cues from their parents. The Democratic Party captured these voters because the party supported policies that addressed their central concern—the economic turmoil of the Great Depression—while the GOP took a hands-off approach. The resulting Democratic affiliation reorganized American politics for the next 30 years.... Vote-eligible Hispanic immigrants and their U.S.-born children today appear to have a similar lack of political experience and affiliation. In a partisan sense, they are legitimately up for grabs—and consequently sit in a strategic and increasingly important position in American politics.

By canceling the only Republican debate set to run on a Spanish-language network, the party is leaving millions of voters within reach of their Democratic opponents.

The vast majority—77 percent—of U.S. Hispanics speak English perfectly well, but according to a Nielsen survey of Spanish-speaking Americans over 18, a full 61 percent still prefer to speak Spanish at home—where they watch TV. It’s not surprising that Nielsen found that nearly 80 percent of homes that predominantly use Spanish watch Spanish-language programming, but the company also found that roughly 50 percent of multi-lingual homes watch Spanish-language TV too.

Still, candidates on both sides of the aisle spend very little on political advertisements on Spanish-language TV. Before the 2012 election, the presidential candidates and Super PAC’s dropped an estimated $360 million in 10 states over the six months preceding the election; only 4.6 percent of that went to ads on Spanish-language TV.

This is especially shocking considering the fact that Spanish-language ads appear to have a significant effect on Hispanic voter turnout and their opinions. Exposure to Spanish-language ads make Hispanics 28 percent more likely to get out and vote. And President George Bush's Latino-targeted ads in 2000 and 2004 made Hispanic voters, respectively, 20 and 22 percent less likely to vote for his opponents. Those numbers are not trivial.

Even if Republicans embrace Spanish-language media to reach this growing voter base, their tendency to support policies that disenfranchise minority voters may make their efforts for naught. From bigoted voter ID laws to blatantly discriminatory re-districting plans—it's no wonder that only half of eligible Hispanic voters managed to register to vote prior to the 2012 elections. In the 2014 mid-terms, 25.2 million Hispanics were eligible to vote. In 2016, Republicans will need the support of upwards of 40 percent of Hispanic voters to win.

NBC is working to resolve the discontinued partnership with the Republican party before February, when the final debate was scheduled to air. But even if they reconcile in time, if the current trend of overlooking Spanish-language airtime continues, it may not be enough for the GOP to take the White House. Buena suerte, Mr. Trump.