On a swing through Florida to promote his presidential memoir, Decision Points, George W. Bush was joined by his brother Jeb to talk about the Bush family name, the 2010 midterm elections and the upcoming 2012 presidential election.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, reiterated that he would not run for president in 2012 -- despite pleas from his brother -- and that he wasn't interested in becoming the chairman of the Republican National Committee, either. "I'm Switzerland as it relates to national Republican politics," Bush told CNN's Candy Crowley in an interview that aired Nov. 14, 2010.
Yet Jeb -- who is 57, and seven years younger than the former president -- still was quick to talk politics when the issue turned to the results of the 2010 midterm elections. The topic -- why Latino or Hispanic voters voted 2-to-1 for Democrats over Republicans, according to Crowley.
"That's some problemo," George W. Bush started, when hearing Crowley's figure (Another transcript recorded Bush as saying, "Es un problema"). After some back and forth, Jeb provided a bit of nuance to the debate over whether Republicans can attract Hispanic voters by talking about the race for governor in Florida.
"Rick Scott got a majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida. We elected two Hispanic governors, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval (Martinez was elected governor in New Mexico and Sandoval in Nevada.) There were congressmen and women elected of Hispanic origin," said Jeb, who speaks Spanish fluently and whose wife is Mexican. "I think the problem is not just a West Coast problem but it is a big-time California problem. And I think a part of it relates to tone.
"If you're watching TV, and someone is kind of legitimately angry that we can't control our border, and sending signals that it's them and us, and, by the way, you're not 'us,' you're 'them,' it doesn't matter what else, people turn out. If they (don't) feel like they're welcome, they're not going to listen to the message.
"Hispanics want the border controlled," Jeb added. "A great nation has to control its border for national security purposes, for all sorts of purposes. And no one has -- I don't know anybody that says, 'Yes, let's just open up our border to create chaos.' So once the border is controlled and people view it that way and there's a perception, it's benchmarked and people say, 'Yes,' then I think you're going to find that there is ground to change our immigration policy to help us grow faster as a nation and to welcome people that work hard and play by the rules to create prosperity for us."
If Hispanic voters overwhelmingly supported Democrats nationwide, we wondered if Jeb was right that the script was flipped in Florida, where Republican Rick Scott narrowly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in the race for governor.
There's no official certified count of who Hispanic or Latino voters supported in any given election, so Jeb and others rely on exit polling data. The data is just like it sounds -- researchers interview people after leaving the polling place and try, using a sample of the electorate, to replicate the voter turnout by gender, race, age and other characteristics. Exit polling measures how people voted but also tries to figure out why. Like any other poll, exit polling has a margin of error.
This year's national and Florida exit polling was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool. Researchers interviewed 3,185 voters in Florida at 45 polling places on election day and also included a telephone poll of absentee and early voters.
The bottom-line numbers back the Bush brothers up. Democrats had a nearly 2-to-1 advantage -- 64 percent to 34 percent -- over Republicans in U.S. House races among Latino or Hispanic voters, according to the data. Yet the same exit polling data said Scott defeated Sink in Florida among Hispanic voters 50 percent to 48 percent. You can see the 50-48 split in this Miami Herald report or in this report crated by the the Pew Hispanic Center, which studied the Hispanic 2010 vote. The Sink-Scott race itself was extraordinarily close, so Hispanic voters were about as divided as everybody else.
But if you're from Florida, and you're a Bush, you should know to be at least a little leery of exit polling (See, 2000).
Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Media Research, told PolitiFact Florida that the Scott/Sink split of the Hispanic vote has a 7 percentage point margin of error. Statistically, that means it is entirely possible Sink won the Hispanic vote. Or Scott. Or that it was a razor-thin margin.
The large margin of error is because while researchers interviewed more than 3,000 voters, they only spoke with 332 people who identified themselves as Hispanic. In its methods statement accompanying the results, Edison Media Research specifically said that "characteristics for minority racial groups will have larger sampling errors."
"The exit polls are always taken like gospel, but they are a survey," Lenski said.
In this case, the percentages could swing on just a handful of votes. By our calculation, if four voters said they voted for Sink and not Scott, Sink would have won the Hispanic vote, according to exit polling.
For the record, Lenski attributes Scott's performance among Hispanic voters in large part to the Cuban vote. Lenski said Scott carried Cuban voters 68-32 percent, while Sink won the non-Cuban Hispanic vote 65-33. Those numbers also have large margins of error. But the gap is easily outside those margins.
Which brings us back to Jeb Bush, who said Rick Scott won a majority of the Hispanic vote in his close victory for governor. Bush was trying to make the point that some Republicans were successful in attracting Hispanic voters. And on that broader point he's right. Scott far outperformed most Republicans across the country when it comes to Hispanic or Latino voters.
But it's a stretch to say he definitively won the majority of Hispanic voters. Exit polling shows that Scott carried the Hispanic vote 50-48, but the poll itself comes with a 7 percentage point margin of error, which means it's impossible to make a broad declaration of victory for either candidate. The margin of error too often gets lost in translation or political headlines. But not for us. We rate this statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.