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Hispanic Votes Not Swaying GOP on Sotomayor

According to the website DemConWatch, which has been compiling public statements on the Supreme Court nomination pending before the Senate, nine Republican senators will vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, with the rest planning to vote against her. Eight of the nine anticipated yea votes come from states with tiny Hispanic populations: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine (which is 0.7 percent Hispanic), Judd Gregg of New Hampshire (1.7 percent), George Voinovich of Ohio (1.9), Kit Bond of Missouri (2.1), Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (2.2), Linsday Graham of South Carolina (2.4), and Dick Lugar of Indiana (3.5) percent. The other yea vote is expected to come from Mel Martinez of Florida, which is 16.8 percent Hispanic.

By contrast, the five Republican senators in states where roughly 20 percent or more of population is Hispanic — these are John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona, and John Ensign of Nevada — have all said they will vote against Sotomayor.

More sophisticated modelling techniques, like logisitic regression, do not reveal any connection between the Hispanic status of a state and the expected vote on Sotomayor. In some formulations, in fact — for example, if a state’s PVI is accounted for but not the ideology of the Senator — a higher Hispanic population actually turns up as a statistically predicdtor of a vote against Sotomayor.

I suspect that is probably a fluke; among the five Republicans in the states with 20%+ Hispanic populations planning to vote against Sotomayor, Kyl and Ensign are very conservative, Cornyn is in a leadership position in his caucus, and Hutchison may have to bolster her conservative credentials in anticipation of her primary against Rick Perry. John McCain’s nay vote is more surprising, and he seems to being a thorn in Obama’s side.

Pressure from the NRA, which will “score” a yea vote on Sotomayor as being a vote against gun control, may also be a factor. With the exception of Florida, the states with large Hispanic populations are Western ones that tend to have large numbers of gun owners and where gun rights are certainly an issue with the GOP base. That seems to outweigh any concerns the Republicans might have about alienating Hispanics.

To be clear, I don’t think anybody should vote for (or against) Sotomayor because she’s Hispanic, nor do I think they should vote for her because their constitutents are. But given that Sotomayor is reasonably popular with the public — most polls show about 50 percent wanting a vote in favor of confirmation, 30 percent against, and 20 percent indifferent — I was expecting a few more ‘yeas’.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.