Did Obama clinch the Latino vote?
The president’s decision to ease deportations for young undocumented immigrants is playing well with Latino voters.
There’s no question that politics was behind the timing of President Obama’s decision to halt deportations of certain undocumented youth; it’s an election year and the president needs Latino votes.
While Republicans have criticized his move on those grounds, the problem is for the GOP is that it appears to be working.
Yes, Latino voters do not list immigration as their top issue when asked in opinion polls (it’s the economy) and the topic doesn’t consume their lives (since you have to be a citizen to vote). Moreover, none of the 800,000 to 1.4 million young immigrants affected by Obama’s decision will not be allowed to vote in November.
But in the words of Marco Rubio, immigration has become a “gateway issue” through which politicians earn the trust of many Latino voters. Over half of Latino voters whom know someone who is undocumented and a quarter know someone in deportation proceedings, according to a Latino Decisions poll released in June 2011. Simply put, it’s an important personal issue for a large swath of the Latino electorate.
Obama’s new policy appears to have addressed his sole major vulnerability among Latino voters while closing off the possibility of Republicans seizing the issue.
The president’s new policy isn’t likely to expand his share of the Latino vote, but all signs indicate that it will energize his existing supporters to actually go to the polls and vote for him again.
Throughout this election cycle, Obama has polled ahead of Romney among Latinos more than two-to-one, similar to the percentage of the Latino vote he took in 2008. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has made overtures to Latinos, but so far he has not seen a bump in the polls.
But Obama has been in real danger of seeing Latino turnout drop, and a big reason for that appears to be his immigration enforcement policies, which have led to a record number of deportations during his presidency.
Fifty-nine percent percent of Latinos in a December 2011 Pew Hispanic Center survey disapproved of Obama’s deportation policies, which also showed an 11-point dip in Obama’s approval rating among Latino voters from the previous year. Fifty-three percent of Latino voters said they were less enthusiastic about Obama in a January Univision/ABC News/Latino Decisions poll, while only 30 percent saying they are more excited.
“It is definitely the case there was an enthusiasm gap here between Latinos and the Democratic Party,” Matt Barreto, a principal at Latino Decisions, a polling firm that specializes in studying the Latino electorate, told Univision News last week. “That has been building up as a result of deportations, and a lack of progress on the DREAM Act.”
That’s a dangerous proposition for Obama, who counted on record Latino turnout in his successful 2008 campaign, when they made up 9 percent of the overall electorate, especially because historical trends show that Latinos are predisposed to punch below their weight at the ballot box.
Latino population growth has surged over the past decade; now more than 21 million Latinos are eligible to vote. But only 10 million are registered ahead of the November election. And registered Latinos are also less likely to actually show up to the polls than are white, non-Latino voters who back Mitt Romney in stronger numbers.
“Can we get everyone who says they want to vote for the president out to vote? That’s the real task, because oftentimes people aren’t as enthusiastic about casting the vote as they are about telling people how they would vote, and there is where we have to work,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a prominent Latino supporter of Obama, said in an interview with Univision News in May.
Obama’s announcement appears to have sparked greater enthusiasm among Latino voters in battleground states. Forty-nine percent said that Obama’s action made them more enthusiastic about the president, according to a new Latino Decisions poll of Latino voters in Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Arizona (which is less winnable for Democrats than the other four) while only 14 percent said it made them less enthusiastic.
Meanwhile, the president’s outside backers are driving home its immigration message in a series of well-funded Spanish-language ads in swing states.
“The announcement on June 14 appears to have clearly erased Obama’s enthusiasm deficit among Latinos,” Barreto told ABC News.
Obama’s decision could resonate loudest with younger Latinos and Latino immigrants who are eligible to vote, Barreto told Univision News. Those groups comprise a largely untapped resource, since they are registered to vote in fewer numbers than other Latino groups.
And despite the outrage expressed by Republican officials, Obama’s decision hasn’t appeared to alienate non-Latino voters. According to a new Bloomberg poll, 64 percent of likely voters agree with the new policy, while 30 percent disagree. Independent voters backed the move by a two-to-one margin, Bloomberg reported.
The positive feedback for Obama comes less than a week before he and Romney will deliver major addresses to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). Romney was caught flat-footed by Obama’s announcement and he has little time to formulate a broader response.
It’s true that Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc and the effects of Obama’s announcement will vary across different states. For example, polling has shown that immigration is a less significant political issue in Florida since majority of the state’s Latino voters are Cuban-Americans and Puerto Rican and are not impacted by immigration laws like other Latino groups, like Mexican-Americans.
And we don’t know whether the good feelings surrounding the new policy will eventually wear off as time goes by. Previous Obama administration actions to refocus on deportations on criminals have been criticized for being unevenly applied.
But for the time being, Obama seems to have solidified his already-strong Latino support and made it even more difficult for Romney to break through.
(Photo: Flickr, Intel Photos)