Obama looks to boost standing with Latinos ahead of 2012
Obama addresses the National Council of La Raza in July during its annual conference in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)
President Obama has recently ramped up efforts to revive enthusiasm among Latino voters as new numbers show that the group remains relatively cool toward the president’s reelection campaign.
Two-thirds of Latinos who voted supported Obama during the 2008 presidential election and the president will likely need to duplicate that performance to win reelection next year. But new polling data show that Obama has some work to do to rebuild that level of support.
Only 38 percent of Latinos said they are certain they would vote for Obama in 2012, according to an impreMedia/Latino Decisions (LD) poll released late last week and taken between mid-July and early August. That number is down from 49 percent from an LD poll released in June, but taken during the weeks following the killing of Osama bin Laden. LD’s April figure was 41 percent.
The Post also noted that approval for Obama among Hispanics is at 49 percent this month, according to Gallup’s polling, down from his all-time high of 85 percent in
But the president has room for growth: an additional 24 percent in the August poll said they are either willing to support Obama, but are open to changing their minds, or undecided but leaning toward voting for Obama.
In order to get those potential voters to the polls, the president will likely have to take steps to spark greater enthusiasm for his campaign; 50 percent said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting in 2012 and 26 percent said they are only “somewhat enthusiastic.”
At the same time, the Obama administration has attempted to engage with Latino voters and activists more than a year before the election.
Last month, the administration held a two-day Latino policy conference at the White House featuring administration officials and Latino activists, as The Washington Post noted on Sunday, and he also addressed the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference. And last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was easing deportation policies for some undocumented immigrants, a move applauded by Latino-advocacy and pro-immigration-reform groups. The decision was made after LD gathered its polling data.
The immigration issue as a whole has been one of the main problems Latinos have had with Obama — chiefly the failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. While it’s not always the top concern for Latinos individually, immigration ranked highest on a list of issues important to the community in the August LD poll.
Obama has also sought to reassure Latino voters that he backs immigration reform during appearances on Spanish-language media.
“We’ve had problems with Republican members of Congress, some of whom previously supported … the DREAM Act but for some reason, because of politics, have pulled their support from it,” Obama said during an interview with Univision Radio. “And so we need to rebuild that support and put pressure for members of Congress to do the right thing on this issue.”
The administration has stressed that the decision on deportations had nothing to do with politics, noting that the changes had been months in the making.
“It has nothing to do with the Latino vote. It’s about implementing current law,” White House adviser Cecilia Muñoz said during a Spanish-language interview on Univision’s Al Punto that aired this weekend.
Immigration isn’t the only reason enthusiasm for Obama has dampened among Latino voters.
The demographic group has also been disproportionately hurt by the economic downturn. The unemployment rate for Latinos was 11.3 percent in July, over 2 percent higher than the national average. Latinos lost 66 percent of their median household wealth during the recession, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the largest drop off among all racial and ethnic groups.
That has some political observers warning that Latinos could stay home in 2012, since they largely abandoned the Republican Party during the 2008 election.
But Republicans are also ramping up outreach to Latino voters with the hopes of snatching key voters away from Obama.
The conservative outside spending group Crossroads GPS ran Spanish-language television ads in key Western swing states with large Latino populations and another GOP-affiliated group, the Hispanic Leadership Network, is holding a conference in New Mexico, one of those swing states, featuring rising Latino stars in the GOP like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
But the voting bloc still appears to be unenthusiastic about supporting the party the way it did in 2004, when President George W. Bush was at the top of the ticket.
Only 10 percent of Latinos said they were certain to vote for a Republican presidential challenger in 2012, with an additional 15 percent saying they were undecided but leaning Republican or voting Republican but open to changing their mind.
Republicans, however, are hoping their messaging on the economy will eventually win over Latinos.
“Unlike in 2008, Obama now has an economic record to defend and Latino voters are watching closely as the economy continues to struggle under his watch,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Victoria Martinez. “The president’s abysmal economic record and his failure to deliver on his campaign promises will be the issues weighing most heavily on the minds of Latinos voters as they look towards the 2012 elections.”
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