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Latin American Immigrant Voters Swing from Republicans to Democrats

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Exit Polling Highlights Immigration’s Role in Determining Election Results

The overall Latino vote’s unprecedented size and impact has been a major storyline emanating from the 2008 elections.  According to new research by Bendixen and Associates, Latin American immigrant voters in particular proved to be the ultimate swing vote that swung toward the Democrats in 2008.  As Latino polling expert Sergio Bendixen found, “the debate over immigration started driving Hispanic voters toward the Democratic party, and the economic black hole clinched it.” Overall, Latino voters comprised 9% of the electorate in 2008, a figure that totals approximately 10.5 million voters.  Latino turnout grew by close to 3 million voters since 2004, when 7.6 million Latinos cast ballots. That was nearly double the Latino turnout of 2000.  The overall Latino vote also increased its support for Democratic candidates in 2008.  After supporting Senator John Kerry by a 56-44% margin against President George W. Bush in 2004, Latinos gave Senator Barack Obama their support 67-31% over Senator John McCain.

Especially in the key Latino battleground states of Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Latino vote’s rapid growth and break towards Democratic candidates played a key role in Democratic victories up and down the ballot.  For example, while overall Latino voters in Florida supported President Bush 55% to John Kerry’s 44% in 2004, Obama won 57% of these voters in 2008 to McCain’s 42%.  2008 was the first year a Democratic Presidential candidate won this demographic in Florida since polling by ethnicity has been done there, and was a key factor in Obama’s victory.   

Bendixen’s new exit polling, commissioned by America’s Voice, targeted immigrant voters of Latin American origin in Miami-Dade County, FL and Los Angeles County, CA (excluding Cuban refugees).  Latin American immigrant voters make up 40% of the overall Latino electorate in the United States, approximately 4 million voters.  This group is considered a key swing voting bloc by Republican and Democratic strategists.  According to Bendixen’s research, this segment overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party in 2008, and immigration is a very important issue to this group. 

As Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) said: “The Latino vote came back to the Democratic Party after a brief flirtation with the Republicans. They turned out, erasing the fame of Latino voters as a sleeping giant and making them an actual giant.”

Among Bendixen’s findings on Latin American immigrant voters:

Latin American Immigrant Voters Supported Obama by a 4:1 Margin: While exit polls show that Latinos nationwide voted 67-31% for Barack Obama, Bendixen found that the Latin American immigrant electorate supported Obama by a 78-22% margin (compared to 61-38% margin among the U.S.-born portion of the Latino vote).  Obama had the strongest support among Mexican-American voters (83-17%), Dominican-Americans (79-21%), and voters aged 18-29 (84-16%). 

Immigration Mobilized Latin American Immigrant Voters: The issue of immigration resonates with the Latin American immigrant voter bloc, as 89% of this population called the issue important to them and their families, including 63% who called the issue “very important.”  This was particularly the case for Central American voters and those voters who arrived more recently to the country.  Among voters originally from Central America, 93% called immigration “important,” including 71% calling it “very important.”  Among voters arriving in the 1990s and 2000s, 95% called the issue of immigration “important,” with 70% calling it “very important.”

Latin American Immigrant Voters are United on Immigration Reform. More than 90 percent of the Latin American immigrant voters in Bendixen’s polling support giving undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize their status and eventually become citizens.  Furthermore, Puerto Ricans, Cuban refugees, and U.S. born Latinos also support comprehensive immigration reform overwhelmingly. 

“It’s no surprise that the voters most affected by harsh immigration policies and the hostile tone of the immigration debate are fleeing the Republican Party,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “The lesson for the Republican Party is clear: it either distances itself from the anti-immigrant forces, and reaches out to Latino immigrants with something other than mass deportation, or it continues to ride into the political wilderness.  The implications for Democrats are also clear: Latino immigrants want action on their priorities – with immigration reform clearly being one of them – and if the party that controls Congress and the White House fails to deliver, it could lose support and drain the enthusiasm of these swing voters.”  

For more post-election analysis on the Latino vote, see:


America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.