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Kasey El-Chayeb

Republicans who have expressed concern over their party’s standing with Latino voters may have found a new shining star in Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is a Latino and a first generation American. Rubio served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Recently, Rubio was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People In the World and his name has gained recognition as a potential vice presidential pick (ABC News).

With the general election fast approaching Republicans need to change rhetoric and strategies to win back Latino voters who were turned off by some of Mitt Romney’s primary season comments regarding immigration. Recent studies, like Melinda S. Jackson’s in Political Psychology, have attested to the fact that Latino voter preferences can be based on social identification and can be changed by a number of factors. Jackson studied the tendency of different socially identified groups to shift allegiances to align with group norms, concluding that in one study “Republican and independents who read an article claiming that a majority of Latinos supported the Democratic candidate in the upcoming 2006 California gubernatorial election, and who identified strongly with Latinos, shifted their candidate preference toward the group norm (p.19, Jackson).”

Based on these findings, it’s possible that something as simple as positive media coverage of Rubio and coverage of increases in Latino support for the GOP could serve as informational cues that shift voter preferences. Such positive coverage has begun to develop. According to a Politico article, Rubio has begun working with other senators from immigrant-heavy states, like Arizona and Texas, on developing a new DREAM Act and gathering bipartisan support for a new plan to help undocumented children. Republican’s publicizing efforts like this one or their efforts to expand visa rules that attract high-skilled workers and tourists could be the smartest course of action, especially when 51% of registered Latino Voters identify themselves as Democrats, compared to only 16% who identify themselves as Republicans (Pew Research Center, p.19).

Even with developments like these or a possible Latino pick for vice president, the GOP has a long way to go before convincing Latinos they will get a fair deal if Romney is elected or that other Latinos are supporting the GOP. Still, many senior Republicans have expressed confidence in Rubio’s future and his potential for improving the party’s Latino friendly image. Rubio’s popularity has surged in Florida, and is growing.

The Jackson study refers to Latinos as the “Sleeping Giant.” I think this title and many of this study’s findings imply that these voters are a key demographic that cannot be ignored. Republicans should be determined to replace destructive rhetoric and create positive media coverage before effects trickle down to the polls in November.

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