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Poll: Rubio popular with Latinos – but not as popular as Clinton, Obama

In the early jockeying for the 2016 presidential race, one of Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., major selling points is that he brings diversity and can expand the party’s influence with Hispanic voters, especially after the shellacking the GOP took with the demographic group in 2012.

Unlike other Republicans, Hispanics view Rubio more positively than negatively -- 23 percent viewed him favorably while 12 percent viewed him negatively, according to an oversample of 300 Latinos in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll. Another 40 percent either did not know him or had no opinion.

Of course, elections are choices, and a potential major obstacle for Rubio in 2016 could be Hillary Clinton, if she decides to run. The former secretary of state, New York senator, and first lady of a popular former Democratic president, was the most popular politician among Hispanics in the poll.

Barack Obama is still very popular with the group -- he has a 62 percent job approval, for example, when Americans at large gave him just a 47 percent rating. And he has a sky-high 64 percent positive, 19 percent negative rating with Hispanics.

But Clinton is even more popular. She’s viewed positively by 65 percent of Hispanics with just 13 percent giving her a negative rating.

In the Sept. 2012 NBC/WSJ poll, Mitt Romney was also viewed positively by 23 percent of Hispanics, but he had a 53 percent negative rating. He wound up losing 71 percent of Hispanics, one of the fastest-growing groups in the country who made up 10 percent of the electorate in 2012.

That was the worst showing by a Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole in 1996 -- and Hispanics were half the size of the electorate than they were last year.

Hispanics are largely undecided about Rubio, but he starts off positive, and there’s room to for him to grow.

“Senator Rubio has impressive name identification for a first-term U.S. Senator with roughly six out of ten Hispanic/Latinos who recognize his name and a solid 23% positive versus 12% negative rating,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrat Peter D. Hart. “Among Hispanics 40-years-old and older, his positive/negative numbers improve to 32%/13%. Compellingly, he maintains a modest net positive even among Hispanic Democrats (18% positive/15% negative).”

Still, the conservative Florida senator who speaks Spanish fluently and is a son of Cuban immigrants, faces some obvious challenges.

Hispanics, though somewhat socially conservative, tend to be economically liberal, view the Republican Party negatively, and largely line up with Democrats on a range of issues, from guns to immigration.

On immigration, Rubio faces a tricky test in the next few months. He is helping to shepherd comprehensive legislation through Congress with a principal task of selling it to conservatives, especially when it comes to a path for citizenship for immigrants in the United States illegally.

Many conservatives, especially in the House and in the grassroots rank and file, are staunchly opposed to a path for citizenship.

Four-in-five Hispanics, on the other hand, are in favor of one. So, as Rubio tries to make the sell to conservatives and get something through they can support, he’s also going to have to convince Latinos, who are closely watching the immigration debate, that what he pushes for will be strong enough.

It’s also not clear how Rubio’s Cuban heritage would play or if it would matter – 51 percent of Hispanics in the poll said they were of Mexican descent versus just 4 percent who said they had Cuban roots. Another 16 percent said their families hail from Central and South America, and 8 percent were from Puerto Rico.

By the way, former President George W. Bush’s time away from the spotlight has done him some good with Hispanics. But he is still overwhelmingly viewed negatively (44 percent negative versus 29 percent positive). But both numbers are improvements from 2008 at the tail end of his presidency. In September 2008, just 21 percent of Hispanics had a positive impression of him versus 68 percent, who had a negative one.

On the issues, Hispanics continue to be more in line with Democrats than Republicans -- 56 percent identified as Democrats and just 20 percent identified as Republicans.

On gun restrictions, Hispanics are more liberal than other Americans with 70 percent believing laws on guns sales should be stricter. Just 55 percent of all adults believed the same.

On the budget, about half of Hispanics -- 49 percent -- think the sequester will have no impact on them or their families, lower than the 58 percent of all Americans who said so.

More Hispanics -- 41 percent -- said they believe the sequester cuts will hurt the economy rather than help. But, interestingly, three-in-10 think the spending cuts are a good thing and would help the economy. That’s nearly double that of all adults who said the same -- 16 percent.

Some interesting demographic notes:

- 56 percent of Hispanics identified as Democrats and just 20 percent identified as Republicans.
- Yet, just 23 percent identify themselves as liberal and 38 percent identify as conservatives, which is similar to the split among all Americans – 25 percent liberal, 26 percent conservative.
- Of all Americans, 44 percent identified as Democrats, 35 percent as Republicans.
- 51 percent of Hispanics say they have at least some college education versus 72 percent of the rest of Americans.

The oversample of 300 Hispanics or Latinos was conducted as part of the larger NBC/WSJ poll from April 5-8. It has a margin of error is +/- 5.7%.