It is hard to overstate the influence of Latino voters in shaping the results of the 2012 elections. They played a critical role in re-electing President Obama and in saving the Democratic majority in the Senate, again. And immigration clearly was one if the main issues that produced unprecedented Latino turnout levels and historic levels of support for Democratic candidates.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Romney’s lurch to the right on immigration destroyed his chances of winning the White House. Meanwhile, President Obama leaned into the issue by protecting DREAMers, a move that mobilized Latino voters without turning off swing voters. The result was that Obama beat Romney by a whopping 52% margin among Latinos – thelargest spread in recent history. The implication is that, in the next Congress, immigration reform will be a priority – for both parties. As David Gergen remarked on CNN on Election Day: ‘The Democrats want it and the Republicans now need it.’”
Regarding turnout, NALEO, which has an excellent track record of projecting Latino turnout, predicted an unprecedented 12.2 million Latino voters for 2012, which would be an increase of 26% from 2008. While the specific turnout data will only become available in the coming weeks and months, what is clear today via the Election Eve poll conducted by impreMedia/Latino Decisions nationwide and in 11 key 2012 battleground states is that Latino voters not only played a major role in returning President Barack Obama to the White House, but also were critical in helping to keep the Senate in Democratic hands. In all cases, immigration reform and the dramatic distinction between the two parties on the issue was a major driver of Latino voter political choices.
Among the key takeaways from the 2012 elections and the Election Eve poll:
- President Obama Crushed Mitt Romney Among Latino Voters Nationwide and in Each of the 11 Battleground States Polled: Obama won Latino voters’ support over Mitt Romney by historic margins in 2012 – a whopping 75%-23% margin nationwide, including: in Colorado, Obama won Latino voters by a massive 87%-10% margin; in New Mexico, by a 77%-21% margin; in Nevada, by an 80%-17% margin; in Ohio, by an 82%-17% margin; and in Virginia, by a 66%-31% margin. EvenFlorida’s traditionally more conservative Latino voters supported Obama over Romney by a 58%-40% margin.
- Immigration is a Personal and Defining Issue for Latino Voters: The poll found that 60% of Latino voters nationwide “know somebody who is an undocumented immigrant.” While ranking second on the “most important issue” question, immigration ranked first in several states currently experimenting with draconian anti-immigrant approaches, such as Arizona (plurality of 48% said immigration) andNorth Carolina (50% said immigration). The foreign-born subset of Latino voters – a group with direct personal experience with immigration policy – preferred Obama over Romney by an 80%-18% margin, was more likely to rank immigration as the number one issue our leaders should address (39%), and was more likely to know an undocumented immigrant (66%).
- The Republican Party as a Whole – not Just Romney – Has a Major Problem with Latino Voters: Latino voters’ support for Democratic congressional candidates over GOP candidates – 77%-23% — was consistent or may have even slightly over-performed President Obama’s Latino margin over Mitt Romney (75%-23%). And just like in 2010, Latino voters’ overwhelming support for the Democratic Senate candidates helped keep the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands. In Arizona, Democrats kept Richard Carmona competitive with Jeff Flake by supporting Carmona 83%-17%. InCalifornia, Dianne Feinstein coasted to re-election, winning Latinos 79%-20%. In Florida, Bill Nelson won re-election in large part due to 59%-40% support among Florida Latinos. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren’s victory was made possible in part by overwhelming support from Latinos (86%-14%). In Nevada, Latino voters supported Shelley Berkley by a 79%-20% margin. In Ohio, Latino voters supported Sherrod Brown’s re-election by a 80%-20% margin. In Virginia, Latino voters provided the margin for Tim Kaine’s close election by supporting him at a 70%-29% clip. And for Republican strategists who think Latino competitiveness can be achieved solely by recruiting more Latino Republican candidates, the poll found that winning Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz (R) only received support from 35% of Texas Latino voters – issues such as immigration matter more to Latino voters than ethnicity.
- President Obama’s DREAMer Announcement Boosted Latino Voter Enthusiasm: President Obama’s June 2012 announcement of the DREAMer deferred action program made 58% of Latino voters nationwide “more enthusiastic” about President Obama, while 32% of nationwide respondents said it had “no effect” on their enthusiasm for the President (only 6% said “less enthusiastic”). This enthusiasm was particularly high in some of the key battleground states that tipped President Obama’s way in large part because of overwhelming support from Latinos – the announcement made 62% of Colorado Latinos and 61% of Nevada Latinos “more enthusiastic” about President Obama.
- Mitt Romney’s Hardline Immigration Stances Hurt Him Among Latino Voters: Romney’s support for mandatory E-Verify, “self-deportation,” and ending the DREAMer deferred action program made 57% of Latino voters nationwide “less enthusiastic” about supporting Romney, while only 7% of Latinos said it made them “more enthusiastic” about Romney’s candidacy (27% said it “had no effect” on their level of support). Of note, “less enthusiastic” responses were particularly high in Colorado (68%), California (62%), Ohio (62%), and Nevada (61%) – four states that voted against Romney, in part due to overwhelming opposition from Latino voters. As we’ve noted, Romney’s run to the hardline right on immigration during the GOP primaries was unnecessary, as Republican primary and caucus-goers are actually more pragmatic than hardline on immigration.
- The Republican Party Can Ony Reach its 40% of Latino Voters Goal By Evolving on Immigration: The poll found that nearly one-in-three Latino voters would be “more likely to vote Republican” if the GOP “took a leadership role in supporting comprehensive immigration reform, with an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Of note, one-in-five Latinos who voted for President Obama in 2012 (19.8%) said that they would be open to voting for Republicans if the Party came to the table on immigration. Combining this subset of Obama voters with the 23% of Latinos who voted for Mitt Romney, a pro-immigration reform Republican Party would be in the mix to achieve the 40% threshold of Latino support that George W. Bush received in 2004 and many analysts say the GOP will need going forward to remain a nationally competitive party, especially as demographic trends accelerate for the 2014 and 2016 elections.