Opinion

Republicans Think They Can Court Hispanic Votes With Their Position on Abortion, but Data Tells a Different Story

By Stella Rouse & Janelle Wong
December 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

President Donald Trump is doubling down on attacks on abortion regardless of where his opponents stand on abortion access. In rallies in Louisiana, he painted the incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who opposes liberalizing abortion laws, as wanting “radical pro-abortion policies,” and stated that “virtually every top Democrat also now supports late-term abortion.” This tactic is only going to become more prevalent as the election cycle ramps up and impeachment proceedings continue, driving him to remind his base about his conservative stance on abortion.

The GOP is already test-driving messages emphasizing social conservative policies like abortion in an attempt to win minority votes, especially Hispanics. Ahead of November’s elections, a Republican candidate for the Virginia state Senate took aim at her Democratic opponent’s stance on late-term abortions to protect the health of the mother. Hispanics make up nearly 10 percent of the population and a critical 5 percent of the eligible voters in that state and the two parties were engaged in a fierce battle for control of the state Senate.

Some strategists claim that since Hispanics are “mostly Catholic and Evangelical,” Hispanics will naturally “gravitate to pro-life Trump.” Other Trump surrogates have argued that appealing to conservative social policies could generate support for Trump among most Hispanics, and not just the most religious.

So, is abortion the GOP’s lifeline when it comes to Hispanics? In Louisiana and Virginia, Republican candidates lost. We are not surprised.

Often, discussions about abortion only occur in partisan terms, leaving out information about how factors like gender, ethnicity and religion distinguish attitudes on the topic. In August, the Public Religion Research Institute released a comprehensive 50-state report involving more than 40,000 respondents on the attitudes of U.S. residents about abortion. Overall, the findings show that abortion may not be the secret weapon that will drive Hispanics to the polls in 2020 for Republican candidates.

Hispanics, especially those who are religious, do appear distinctly conservative when it comes to the issue of abortion. Less than a majority of Hispanics (45 percent) support abortion being legal in all or most cases. In comparison, majorities of blacks (58 percent), Asian Americans (60 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (55 percent) polled by PRRI say this should be the case.

Hispanics’ more conservative leanings on abortion are in part a function of socialization in the country of origin and religion. While a majority of U.S.-born Hispanics believes abortion should be legal in all or most cases, just over a third of those born outside the United States say the same. Although most Hispanics in the United States are born in the United States, more conservative attitudes among the foreign-born reflect social and religious trends in Latin America. Prohibitions against abortion are much stricter in Latin America than in the United States or Asia. Hispanic evangelicals, who make up about 15 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, are one of the most conservative religious groups on the issue of abortion.

If Republicans were able to court Hispanics with their stance on abortion, this would be most impactful in swing states. Due to the large and unique 50-state sample, the PRRI poll also allows us to examine attitudes about abortion at the state level. Examining attitudes about abortion among Whites and Hispanics in two important swing states — Florida and Colorado — shows that opinions about abortion have not shifted much, even with the confirmation of two conservative Supreme Court justices nominated by President Trump. For example, in Florida, a consistent bellwether state, 61 percent of white respondents state that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 46 percent of Hispanic respondents say the same. Similarly, in Colorado, 59 percent of white respondents and 42 percent of Hispanic respondents state that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. We also examined how the issue of abortion might affect a person’s vote. In Florida, only 21 percent of both white and Hispanic respondents said that a candidate had to share their views on abortion in order to receive their vote. In Colorado, 22 percent of whites and 24 percent of Hispanics said the same.

While Hispanics are generally less supportive of abortion than whites, opinions across these swing states are similar to those for Hispanics nationally, and the numbers have remained constant over time. The results from the recent PRRI survey indicate that Hispanics, compared to other minorities, demonstrate somewhat lower support for abortion rights. However, this number has remained relatively unchanged, and therefore, is unlikely to drive a large number of Hispanics to vote for the president and other Republican candidates in 2020. Even in battleground states, where Republicans might be able to maximize the Hispanic vote, there is little movement among Hispanics in opinions about abortion. The fact remains that despite more conservative views on abortion, Trump continues to be unpopular among this group and the issue is not driving vote choice.

Next summer, a few months before voters go to the polls, the Supreme Court will likely decide on an important case dealing with a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. This will thrust the issue of abortion front and center on the political stage. But Republican expectations that they can court Hispanic voters in 2020 on the issue of abortion are not supported by the patterns we observe from the PRRI data. While they may own the conservative position on abortion, GOP candidates will not likely translate the issue into Hispanic votes in 2020, including in swing states.

Stella Rouse and Janelle Wong are PRRI public fellows who teach at University of Maryland, where Rouse is an associate professor of government and politics and Wong is a professor of American studies.

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