Will Marco Rubio Win Latino Votes? Probably Not.

It’s obvious that the GOP is beginning to panic about their poor performance with Latino voters. The Hill, for example, reports that Senate Republicans are working on a watered-down version of the DREAM Act, in an attempt to win back some Hispanic support. Senators Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchinson are working on one variation, while the GOP’s Great Latino Hope—Senator Marco Rubio of Florida—is working on another. Both are expected to be unveiled when Mitt Romney official wins the Republican presidential nomination.

But given the degree to which Latinos are extremely disdainful of the GOP’s five-year battle against comprehensive immigration reform, its routine attacks on immigrants, and its smear campaign against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, it will take much more than an off-brand DREAM Act to build support.

There’s a fair chance that Republicans will try to rehabilitate their brand by giving Rubio the vice-presidential nod, but even that relies on the assumption that Latinos value symbolic over substantive representation, and I’m not sure that’s the case. On the policies that matter to many Latinos, Rubio is just as right-wing as any other Republican—the only difference is his last name. What’s more, putting Rubio on the ticket smacks of pandering in a way that might be distasteful to Latino voters.

Indeed, early polling suggests that Rubio would have little effect on the GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote. In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are evenly matched in a head-to-head match-up, 46 percent to 44 percent. The more important thing, however, is that Romney beats Obama among Latinos, 48 percent to 37 percent.

That changes when you add Rubio and Biden to the ticket, respectively. In that scenario, Obama takes 50 percent of the Latino vote—a 13 point gain—while Romney’s performances drops by 2 percent. Of course, the usual caveats apply—slight differences in sampling can result in big changes in poll results. Still, it says something that Romney loses support when Rubio is on the ticket.

It should always be said that, at this point, head-to-head matchups tell us less about the public’s mood that favorability and job approval ratings. On both counts, Obama is in decent shape. According to McClatchy and Marist, 48 percent of Americans approve of his job performance (compared to the 47 percent who disapprove), while 50 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the president (compared to 46 percent disapproval). By contrast, Mitt Romney has a net favorability rating of zero—44 percent of Americans either like him, or dislike him.

To return back to my main point, all of this is to say that, while Marco Rubio seems like he was designed to be the perfect vice presidential nominee, his actual effect on the election—as is the case with most VPs—would be small, and potentially counterproductive.