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A new nationwide poll highlights the importance of immigration reform to Latino voters and the potential political consequences of failure to act on this issue. The poll, from Impremedia, Latino Decisions, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, found that 84% of Latino voters think it is either “important, very important, or extremely important” that immigration reform is enacted before the 2010 midterm elections.
The poll also showed that 86% of Latinos think that it is “important, very important, or extremely important” to pass a health care reform bill before the midterms – a figure virtually identical to the total for immigration reform, and unsurprising given the issue’s place of prominence in the ongoing political debate. Among all respondents in the poll, health care was the top issue of concern for 32%, followed by fixing the economy (22%) and immigration reform (17%). However, immigration reform was the top issue for foreign-born respondents–who comprised 40% of the sample and are the key swing vote in this demographic. Twenty-eight percent of foreign born respondents chose immigration reform as their top issue, while 25% choose health care and 24% the economy.
These results track a May 2009 poll of Latino voters conducted by Bendixen & Associates for America’s Voice, which found that while immigration reform came in fourth on the list of “biggest problems facing the country,” it is a threshold issue for this key group of voters. A full 87% of respondents in the Bendixen poll would not consider voting for a candidate “who was in favor of forcing most illegal immigrants to leave the country.” Seventy-two percent said they believed President Obama would keep his promise to advance comprehensive immigration reform his first year in office. Fully 83% said they trusted President Obama would “do the right thing” on immigration reform, while 69% said the same about Congressional Democrats and only 23% expressed such confidence in Congressional Republicans.
Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington and a partner at the polling firm Latino Decisions said, Latinos are keenly focused on immigration and health care reform.
“If there is no health care reform, with a public option that is strongly backed by them, they will turn their attention to immigration reform,” he said. “If there is no immigration reform then we will have two failures of the administration on those important priorities. I think we will see a discouraged voter that will probably abstain from voting in 2010 for the most part.”
A story in the highly influential Spanish newspaper La Opinión, wrote that poll results indicate a strong and growing desire among Latino voters for comprehensive immigration reform.
“Latinos definitely don´t think immigration reform can be postponed indefinitely,” the story stated. “If it doesn´t happen before November 2010, only about 42% would think it´s understandable and 28% would say the president reneged on his promise. Another 26% would see a combination of both. The consequences for Democrats could be dire. Without reform, 56% of Latinos say they will stay with the Democrats and Obama in 2012, but another 34% say that they would vote against the Democrats. Experts believe that could lead to abstentionism in future elections.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The stakes are clear. Immigration continues to be a defining issue for Latino voters. They expect that promises will be kept and that reform is on its way. Like all Americans, Latino voters want their lawmakers to address the big challenges of our time, including health care reform, fixing the economy, and passing sensible immigration reform. But these voters also have little patience for Washington’s excuses for inaction in the face of these challenges. They believe lawmakers should walk and chew gum at the same time.”
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