A New York Times article from 1882 stated, “It is a trite saying that in a free country public opinion rules. […] It often happens that a question of policy becomes of pressing importance before public opinion develops in regard to it.” More than one-hundred years later, this idea remains true—especially in regard to Latino voters and the Republican Party.

In a three year time series analysis by the Latino Policy Coalition, the lag between policy and public opinion is laid bare. The study shows that over the last three years, Congressional Democrats have been gaining credibility with Latino voters while Congressional Republicans have lost credibility. Why? Congressional Republicans have consistently alienated key constituencies with their stance on pressing policy issues.

The Latino Policy Coalition’s analysis trace several of these key issues which top the Latino priority list—the economy, comprehensive immigration reform and healthcare—relative to party support. For example, the report reveals a 45-point Democratic lead on healthcare reform which is a jump from 2006. On comprehensive immigration reform, Latinos give Congressional Democrats a 40-point advantage over Republicans, a 7-point increase since 2006. Recent research by the Immigration Policy Center also shows similar findings. In the 2008 election cycle, the Latino voting block was a stronghold for then Senator Obama—a voting block which is sure to be influential in the upcoming Congressional elections as well.

But policy matters aside, it’s no surprise that Republicans are losing their once solid ground with Latino voters. From their negative responses throughout the Sotomayor hearings to outrageous birther claims, Republicans are paying little heed to this growing voting bloc.

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week, “Climate of Fear,” which reveals a history of racial intolerance in Suffolk County, New York. The report found that for the past ten years, Latinos have been subjected to physical and verbal abuse and were victimized by a gang of white supremacists who hunted Latinos for sport. It’s no wonder there are such drastic changes in Latino public opinion. The report also found that discrimination against Latinos “is a microcosm of a problem facing the entire United States, where FBI statistics suggest a 40 percent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes between 2003 and 2007.”

In the wake of these shortcomings, Democrats have picked up the pace and capitalized on issues that are important to Latinos—issues like comprehensive immigration reform. Key Democratic leaders—Sen. Schumer, Sen. Menendez, and Congressman Gutierrez—are continually beating the drum for comprehensive immigration reform and continue to push for a reform bill by the end of this year.

As Republicans continue to backpedal, Democrats continue to gain friends in the Latino community—friends who happen to vote. If there were ever a time for Republicans to wake up and get on board with issues important to Latinos, now, before the next congressional election cycle, would probably be that time.