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Yes, NYT: Latino Voters Will Be Deciders in Battleground States — But Romney Isn't Even Close

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Today’s New York Times has a front page article titled, “Campaigns See Latino Voters as Deciders in 3 Key States,” discussing the Latino vote in Colorado, Florida and Nevada. From the headline, one might get the impression that the battle for the Latino vote in those three states is actually competitive. You have to read through to the third paragraph to realize that it’s not.  Obama is running away with the vote:

But if their strategies differ, both campaigns have determined that turning out Latinos in those three states is potentially critical. Mr. Obama is trying to roll up an outsize margin among Hispanics that could edge him to victory in those states, while Mr. Romney is seeking to hold down the president’s numbers.

It’s not until almost the end of the piece before the Times reveals just how outsize Obama’s margin currently is, using a recent national poll of Latino voters:

The [Pew Hispanic Center] poll showed Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney among Hispanic voters nationwide 69 percent to 21 percent; in 2008, Mr. Obama took 67 percent of the Hispanic vote, to 31 percent for Senator John McCain.

Although the Times article didn’t include polls of Latino voters in those three states, they do exist.  Over the past several weeks, America’s Voice released polls of Latino voters, which were conducted by Latino Decisions. In all three of those states, Obama does lead by an “outsize margin.”

Here’s the breakdown of Latino voters:

  • In Colorado, Obama leads Romney by a margin of 74% – 20%
  • In Florida, Obama leads Romney by a margin of 61% – 31%
  • In Nevada, Obama leads Romney by a margin of 78% – 17%

As Matt Barreto from Latino Decisions pointed out to the New York Times, immigration is a key factor in these margins:

Matt A. Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington and a founder of Latino Decisions, which polls Latino voters, said Mr. Romney continued to pay a price for the tough immigration language that marked the primary, even as he now seeks to move to the center.

“Romney has moved himself into an area where his statements on immigration are not satisfactory; before, they were offensive,” he said. “His new language may not alienate as many people, but it’s not attracting people.”

It’s important to note that the Latino firewall in the West, particularly Colorado and Nevada, saved the Senate for Democrats. In both races, immigration was a major issue. The Democratic candidates, Harry Reid and Michael Bennet, leaned into the issue, while their respective opponents, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck, took extremist positions.  Election eve polling of Latino voters, also conducted by Latino Decisions, and exit polls that estimated turnout, it is clear that Latino voters provided the margin of difference in a number of key races:

As Nate Silver noted last week, even he didn’t call the 2010 Colorado and Nevada Senate races correctly:

In the past couple of elections, polls have underestimated Democrats’ standing in states with heavy Hispanic populations. (The two senate races that the FiveThirtyEight forecast called incorrectly in 2010 — Nevada and Colorado — are both states with a healthy number of Hispanic voters.)

This may be because many polling firms that conduct interviews only in English miss some Hispanic voters who are more comfortable speaking Spanish. According to Matt Barreto of the polling firm Latino Decisions, which conducts bilingual interviews, primarily Spanish-speaking Hispanic voters are more likely to vote Democratic than those who have more English fluency.

We also think Latino voters will play a decisive role in Virginia, New Mexico and Arizona.