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Now It's Personal: Why Latino Voters Care So Much About Immigration

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New Polling Underscores Challenges and Opportunities for Obama Administration

New public opinion analysis by Latino Decisions demonstrates that immigration remains salient and motivating for Latino voters in the United States due to their personal connection to the debate.  As the polling makes clear, the rise in deportations and ongoing inaction on comprehensive immigration reform will directly affect Latino voters’ political choices in 2012.  Among the key data include the fact that President Obama’s approval rating on his handling of immigration issues is just 35% among the quarter of Latino voters who personally know someone caught up in deportation proceedings – compared to the President’s 52% approval rating on immigration issues among Latino voters who do not personally know someone caught up in deportation.

As the Latino Decisions analysis sums up, “The personal relationship Latinos have to state and federal immigration policy helps to explain why there has been a major shift in Latino attitudes toward immigration, and is also impacting Latinos’ approval of the job President Obama is doing reforming immigration policy. It will therefore be extremely difficult to engage Latino voters without addressing what is becoming painfully obvious: that for Latinos, immigration is no longer about politics, it’s personal.”

Among the key findings in the new analysis:

  • Latino Voters’ Personal Lens on the Immigration Debate:  June polling by impreMedia/Latino Decisions found that a majority of Latino voters (53%) said they know someone who is undocumented, while one-fourth (25%) said they know a person or have a family member who is facing deportation or who has been deported.  As the new analysis notes, “These are striking numbers, particularly given that our sample for the poll is registered voters, who by definition are citizens of the United States.”  Noting that immigration has become the single most important voting issue for Latino voters in the June poll, beating jobs and the economy by 16 points, Latino Decisions writes: “We believe that the increased saliency of immigration policy and liberal movement in attitudes among Latinos is due to two factors: 1) perceptions of immigration policies being framed in anti-Latino rhetoric, and 2) personal knowledge of the impact of immigration policy on families living in the United States.”  The findings about Latino voters’ personal connection to the immigration debate echo 2010 polling of Latino voters in twelve states by Bendixen & Amandi, who found that 78% of Latino voters considered the immigration issue important to them and their families, including 51% who called it “very important.”  Additionally, 62% of respondents in the Bendixen & Amandi poll reported knowing an undocumented person vs. only 33% who did not. 
  • What it Means for 2012:  Most significant for political strategists and pundits, today’s new analysis notes that, “having personal connections to those most impacted by immigration policies moderates how the Latino electorate views the job President Obama has been doing handling immigration reform.”  Specifically, President Obama’s approval rating on his handling of immigration issues drops to 35% among the quarter of Latinos who personally know someone caught up in deportation proceedings – a full 17 points lower than among those who do not know someone caught up in deportation.  Per Latino Decisions, “This trend strongly suggests that Latinos who have intimate knowledge of the severe consequences associated with the Obama administration’s current approach to immigration are more likely to hold the President accountable for these outcomes.”
  • Lessons from the Ground:  Two new articles lift up personal stories and add important context to the Latino Decisions analysis.  A Roll Call piece profiles the story of Haile Rivera, one of the small dollar donors selected in to dine with then candidate Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.  According to Roll Call, Rivera is disappointed “that the president has not prioritized his campaign promise to give the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally a path to citizenship.”  Although he is still an engaged supporter of Obama, and is already volunteering on behalf of his reelection campaign, the piece reports that Rivera “spends a lot of his time explaining to disappointed supporters why immigration reform hasn’t passed and why deportations have risen.”  Additionally, a Reuters article assesses how Hispanics in Iowa have grown frustrated on immigration issues and apportion much of the blame to President Obama.  The article quotes Oscar Garcia, a 57-year-old former corrections officer in Iowa, who stated, “Our people are suffering.  They need to become legal.”  To Garcia, Obama “has done nothing for immigrants. He hasn’t kept his promises.  When healthcare came along, he pushed it to the limit.  He didn’t care what the Republicans were saying.  Why couldn’t he do the same thing for immigration reform?  Why didn’t he push it the limit?”  The Reuters piece also notes that Republicans are in no position to capitalize on this frustration with Obama: “If there’s good news here for Obama, it’s that Republicans are regarded with deep suspicion by most local Hispanics, not just on immigration issue [sic] but on workplace safety and business regulation.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “President Obama and his advisors have to understand that if they want Latino voters to show up and fight for them, they have to stand up and fight for Latino immigrants.  With enforcement-only policies run amok and Republicans attempting to bully the Administration into more of the same, it’s time to embrace the fight, make life better on the ground for immigrant workers and families, and show just how extreme and radical the Republican Party has become.”

Link to New Latino Decisions Analysis: http://latinodecisions.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/immigration-policy-is-personal-for-latinos/

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