Why GOP opposition to Obamacare will hurt Hispanic outreach

Voting signs sit outside the Licking County Board of Elections on the first day of early voting in Newark, Ohio … Continued

Voting signs sit outside the Licking County Board of Elections on the first day of early voting in Newark, Ohio on Oct. 2, 2012. (REUTERS)

This week has left an already jaded American public even more exasperated with Congress, as Republican demands that funding for the 2010 Affordable Care Act be excised from the federal budget were met with a rebuff from Democratic congressional leaders and the Obama administration, resulting in the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

Strategists from both parties have been busy calculating what the possible fallout from the shutdown might be for the 2014 mid-term elections. Overall, polling shows that Americans are significantly more likely to blame the Republican Party than the Democratic Party for the shutdown. But new polling by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reveals that the hardline Republican focus on opposition to health care reform may have the unintended consequence of undermining a key long-term party objective: connecting with Hispanic voters, who favored Obama over Romney by a 3-to-1 ratio in 2012.

One of the more striking findings of PRRI’s recent Hispanic Values Survey, a nationally representative survey of Hispanics living in the United States, was the importance of the issue of health care within the Hispanic community. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Hispanics overall and 71 percent of Hispanic registered voters say the rising cost of health care as a critical issue in America today, ranking its importance nearly as high as jobs and unemployment (72 percent) and significantly higher than immigration reform (53 percent). Among Hispanics, this emphasis on health care crosses party and religious lines: both Hispanic Democrats (71 percent) and Republicans (64 percent) rank the rising cost of health care as a critical issue. Likewise, majorities of all Hispanic religious groups cite the rising cost of health care as a critical issue facing the country, including the religiously unaffiliated (71 percent), Catholics (66 percent), mainline Protestants (65 percent) and evangelical Protestants (64 percent). For Hispanics, the issue of health care coverage is less a partisan one than a practical one: Hispanics constitute the largest group of Americans lacking health insurance, with nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) lacking coverage.

Notably, most Hispanics also have no problem with the government playing a central role in the provision of health care. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Hispanics agree that the government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes, compared to 39 percent who disagree. Arguments from Republican leaders, then, that Obamacare is an inappropriate incursion by government are likely to fall fairly flat.

To be sure, like Americans overall, Hispanics are more divided on Obamacare specifically (48 percent favor repealing the law, while 47 percent oppose repealing the law), but this ambiguity about Obamacare does not translate into apathy about the current GOP role in the shutdown. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Hispanics oppose Congress cutting off funding of the health care law as a way to stop it from being put into place, compared to 28 percent who support this move. And by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio (70 percent vs. 23 percent), Hispanics oppose Congress shutting down major activities of the federal government as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place.

The overall portrait suggests that GOP leaders may have failed to grasp the long-term negative fallout their hardline opposition to Obamacare is likely to generate among an important constituency that already largely believes the party is out of touch with their needs and priorities. One of the most striking findings of the Hispanic Values Survey was that just 12 percent of Hispanics believe the phrase “cares about people like me” better describes the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. With immigration reform on ice and opposition to health care reform becoming the primary issue associated not just with the Tea Party but with the Republican Party as a whole, the data suggests that whatever short-term points the GOP is currently scoring among its overwhelmingly white base of supporters may be negated by continued losses among Hispanics, a constituency critical to the party’s future success in national politics.

By Robert P. Jones for Figuring Faith


Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
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