By Justin Sink
A new poll of likely Hispanic voters in the 2016 presidential election shows strong support for the two candidates seen as potential Democratic nominees: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden.
The survey, by Latino Decisions, also revealed Republican candidates continue to significantly trail among Hispanic voters, with even champions of immigration reform like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush significantly behind top Democrats.
That deficit could again prove significant in 2016, when the pollsters estimate that the Hispanic vote will approach 12.5 million. In 2012, exit polls suggested 71 percent of Hispanic voters broke for President Obama.
That's enough for a substantial lead over Biden, who holds a 58-21 percent favorability rating.
Rubio, meanwhile, carries a narrow 31-29 positive favorability rating. Some four in 10 probable Hispanic voters, though, say they don't know the Florida lawmaker, who has helped push for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate.
Jeb Bush — also a proponent of immigration reform — is underwater with his favorability ranking. While a third of Hispanic voters don't know him, 39 percent view him unfavorably and 27 percent view him favorably.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, is viewed favorably by just two in 10 Hispanic voters. Half say they don't know the House Budget Committee chairman, and 31 percent view him unfavorably.
The top performing Republican among Hispanic voters was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who carries a 38-12 percent favorability rating. Half of voters though say they have no opinion of Christie.
Despite being more popular, Christie trails Rubio when Hispanic voters were asked who they would vote for in a Republican primary, pulling just 14 percent to Rubio's 29 percent. Bush (13 percent), Ryan (11 percent), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at 9 percent round out the top 5.
Rubio, unsurprisingly, would begin with a major deficit in a head-to-head matchup with Clinton. According to the poll, Clinton would win Hispanic voters 66-28 percent, with 6 percent remaining undecided. Biden fares nearly as well, holding a 60-28 percent advantage over Rubio with 12 percent undecided.
The Democratic leads only increase in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups with possible Republican candidates Ryan or Bush. None of the Republican challengers are pulling the 38-42 percent of Hispanic voters a GOP candidate would likely need to win the presidency, according to many strategists. That deficit is expected to hold particular sway in swing states including Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Outside of the presidential race, the poll found that Hispanic voters were increasingly shifting their focus to the battle over immigration reform. In the survey, 53 percent said immigration was the most important issue for the president and Congress to address, with just 28 percent choosing the economy and jobs. That figure marks a shift from November, when 58 percent said economic issues and 35 percent said immigration.
Eight in 10 Hispanic voters reported closely following news about immigration, including 82 percent of those who have voted in the past for Republican candidates.
The issue could be a huge boon for GOP candidates, if a compromise bill can find its way through the House. Hispanic voters who cast a ballot for President Obama in the past were 50 percent more likely to say they would consider voting for Rubio if immigration reform passed, as were 46 percent of independents.
The survey also found that a Democratic candidate could benefit among Hispanics by adding San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to the ticket, with 62 percent of voters saying his selection would make them more likely to back a Democratic ticket.
Fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz (R), does not carry the same weight on the Republican side, with 49 percent saying his choice as vice presidential candidate would make them less likely to vote for a GOP ticket.