Republicans come up short in search for diverse voters in 2016 election

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Republicans Diversity Struggle

Ten months before the United States elects a new president, the Republican Party has yet to resolve a problem that its leaders said contributed to Mitt Romney's 2012 loss to Barack Obama: a lack of support among Hispanic and younger voters.

The percentage of Republicans among those likely to vote in the Nov. 8, 2016, election lags Democrats by 9 percentage points, compared with a 6-point deficit in the year leading up to Obama's 2012 victory, according to an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos polling data from 2012 and 2015.

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While the American electorate has become more diverse the last three years, the party's support among Hispanic likely voters and younger likely voters has shrunk significantly.

Polling data on likely voters who identify as members of a particular political party are considered valuable indicators of election outcomes. In 2012, 93 percent of voters who identified as members of a particular party cast a ballot for that party's presidential candidate, a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll found.

The numbers suggest the Republican field, led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, faces strong headwinds against the Democrats, led by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Take a look at the December GOP presidential debate:

38 PHOTOS
December GOP Debate
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Republicans come up short in search for diverse voters in 2016 election
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina (R) gestures as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio looks on during in the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gestures during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump is seen through the heads of audience members during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz, right, speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (R) speaks as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. Carson said his experience as a pediatric neurosurgeon prepared him to make tough choices as a leader. Asked if he could be "ruthless" as a commander-in-chief and order airstrikes that could kill children, Carson said that when he told children heâd have to take out a brain tumor "they donât like me very much, at that point. But later on they love me." (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, second from left, makes a point as Ben Carson, left, Ted Cruz, second from right, and Jeb Bush look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, left, and Donald Trump laugh during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, makes a point as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio listens to debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich gestures as he speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waves as he walks onstage during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, speaks as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Carly Fiorina, left, responds to a question from debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Chris Christie speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz shakes hands at the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (L) shakes hands with former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio greets retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
2016 Republican presidential candidates Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, from left, Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon, Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc., Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, listen to the U.S. National Anthem during the Republican presidential candidate debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. With less than two months remaining before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, middle-of-the-pack candidates hoping for a late surge in the polls have little choice but to come out swinging in tonight's fifth Republican debate. Photographer: Ruth Fremson/Pool via Bloomberg
Republican presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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"Good candidates running good campaigns can overcome partisan disadvantages," Republican pollster and strategist Neil Newhouse said. "The party faced these same challenges in 2012 and is still facing those challenges, and it is potentially more significant."

An analysis of the Reuters/Ipsos polling data found:

- In 2012, Democrats made up 44.7 percent of party-affiliated likely voters, compared to 39.1 percent Republicans, a difference of about 6 percentage points, according to the analysis of 87,778 likely presidential voters polled leading up to the 2012 presidential election. The results have a credibility interval of plus or minus 0.3 percentage points.

- Three years later, that lead had grown to nine points, 45.9 percent to 36.9 percent, according to the analysis of 93,181 likely presidential voters polled in 2015. The results in 2015 have the same credibility interval as 2012.

- Among Hispanics who are likely presidential voters, the percentage affiliated with the Republican Party has slipped nearly five points, from 30.6 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, Hispanic Democrats grew by six percentage points to 59.6 percent.

- Among whites under 40, the shift is even more dramatic. In 2012, they were more likely to identify with the Republican Party by about 5 percentage points. In 2015, the advantage flipped: Young whites are now more likely to identify with the Democratic Party by about 8 percentage points.

- Meanwhile, black likely voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic, at about 80 percent.

BREAD AND BUTTER VOTERS

For both parties, the election will partly hinge, as always, on getting out the votes, Newhouse said. But for a Republican to win, the gap in party membership means their voters need to show up at a much higher rate than Democratic voters.

In November 2014, Republican voters did just that with dramatic congressional victories that allowed the GOP to take control of the U.S. Senate and solidify its control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Those gains, during a low-turnout midterm election, were fueled by turnout among older white voters.

Ari Fleischer was co-author of "Growth and Opportunity Project," the Republican postmortem of Romney's 2012 loss which concluded that the party had to connect with minorities, especially Asians and Hispanics, and the young.

"If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out," the authors wrote.

A former press secretary to President George W. Bush, Fleischer said Republicans' "bread and butter" support comes from a powerful and growing block of voters: whites over 55. The numbers bear that out.

Aging baby boomers likely to vote in a presidential election remain strongly Republican, up slightly to 47.7 percent of voters polled in 2015. The share of that group who identify as Democrats slipped nearly two points to 35.4 percent in 2015.

See candidates still in the 2016 presidential race:

9 PHOTOS
2016 Presidential Candidates Still in Race (as of 2/22)
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Republicans come up short in search for diverse voters in 2016 election

Bernie Sanders: Running for the Democratic party nomination

(Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Dr. Ben Carson: Running for the Republican party nomination

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Hillary Clinton: Running for the Democratic party nomination

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Ted Cruz: Running for the Republican party nomination

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Marco Rubio: Running for the Republican party nomination

(Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Donald Trump: Running for the Republican party nomination

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Gary Johnson: Running for the Libertarian party 

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

John McAfee: Running for the nomination of his own 'Cyber Party'

A former tech exec famous for his security software with a checkered legal past, McAfee promises to avoid the campaign trail and run on a platform of "Privacy, Freedom and Technology."

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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DIVERSE FIELD

An irony is that the Republican presidential field is younger and more diverse than the Democratic contenders. It includes Hispanics Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both in their mid-40s; two business people - Trump and a woman, Carly Fiorina; and a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, who is black.

All three Democratic candidates are white and long-time politicians, though Clinton, the front-runner, is a woman.

Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada said the rhetoric coming from some of his party's candidates is dampening any hope their message will resonate beyond the party's base.

Heller, who has endorsed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination, noted Bush's brother George W. Bush got about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004 while Romney got just 28 percent in 2012.

"So it is possible for a Republican candidate to do well with the Hispanic community," Heller said. "And we have to do better or we're not going to win this presidential race."

Carlos Firpi is a 31-year-old Hispanic voter and a Republican. Earlier this year, he considered himself a Trump supporter. No longer.

"Now I don't know who to support," said the computer technician from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. "Unfortunately, all I seem to hear anymore from anyone in the Republican Party is extremism."

Firpi said he is naturally drawn to the party's emphasis on self-reliance and a limited role for government. And he remains a Republican but also understands why Hispanics and young voters would feel alienated. "It concerns me, too."

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said the party needs to reach out to minority groups between campaign cycles.

"It's not something you get done in one cycle; it's not something you get done in two cycles. It's something that's done over time," he said after watching December's Republican debate in Las Vegas.

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