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The Latino Vote in 2012: Why Margin AND Mobilization Matter

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Latino Voter Turnout Levels Important to Assess Alongside Head-to-Head Matchup Between Obama & Romney

As many have noted, the 2012 presidential race may hinge on Latino voters’ political choices.  But there are two choices Latino voters have to make: 1) whether to vote at all; and 2) which candidate to support if they decide to vote.  What’s becoming clear is that both parties face different challenges: Democrats have a huge advantage with respect to margin, but face a significant challenge with respect to mobilization; Republican problems with respect to margin may lead them to try to discourage mobilization.  New polling and analysis from a range of political observers shows that both parties highlight these dynamics.

Polling released yesterday from NBC News/Telemundo finds that President Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 61-27% margin among Latino registered voters.  Other polls have shown an even wider gap.  For Romney, this share of the Latino electorate is well below the 40% threshold of Latino voter support that successful Republican presidential candidates need due to the demographic makeup of the electorate and the substantial Latino presence in many battleground states.

However, the poll was not entirely good news for President Obama.  As the recap accompanying the poll notes, “The challenge for Obama…will be turning out these voters with only a combined 68 percent of respondents saying they are highly interested in the upcoming election (compared with 81 percent of all American voters who expressed high interest in the NBC/WSJ poll).”

A range of observers are offering similar warnings to both Romney and Obama about the work they need to do with Latino voters in order to win in November.

“The Fix” Shows How GOP Deficit with Latinos Will Doom the Party

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post’s political blog “The Fix” demonstrate why the Republican Party’s “Latino problem” is not just a 2012 issue: “focusing just on 2012 actually underestimates the depth of the political problem for Republicans when it comes to the Hispanic community.  In short: Republicans’ Hispanic problem didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be able to fix it overnight either. That means that regardless of what happens in 2012, Republicans need to find ways to begin growing their support among Hispanics, or they run the risk of struggling to build majority national coalitions in 2016, 2020 and beyond.”  Their analysis also provides two useful charts from the past 10 presidential elections, recapping both Latino voters’ level of support for each party’s candidate, as well as Latino voters’ increasing share of the overall presidential electorate. 

Linda Chavez: Romney Should Support the DREAM Act to Win Back Latino Voters:

As part of a New York Times online debate on how both parties can win over Latino voters, former Reagan Administration official Linda Chavez laments that Romney’s hardline immigration stance during the primary season is a key driver of his Latino problem, and that the only smart strategy would for him “to embrace the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who came here as children if they join the military or attend college for at least two years. If he doesn’t, he could lose not just the overwhelming majority of Hispanic votes, but also the election.”

John Heilemann’s “Dark View” of the Romney Campaign’s Latino Voter Strategy

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, political journalist John Heilemann predicted that instead of pivoting to pro-immigrant policies to improve his vote share, he’ll instead try to suppress the Latino vote: “I have a very dark view of this, which is I don’t think this is a problem that Romney can solve in a positive way. I think there’s going to be maybe the most negative campaign across all of this is going to be a viciously negative campaign against Obama by both the Romney campaign and the Republican super PACs that will attack him from the left, saying deportations are at an historic high with Obama; he’s failed. They’re going to attack him from the middle and say he failed on immigration reform. They’re going to attack him from the right on gay marriage, and the goal of that campaign I think is going to be not to close the vote shares but just to push Hispanic turnout down, try to drive the overall vote total down and be able to not be hurt as badly if they can get Hispanics just to stay home.”

Matt Barreto: What Obama Needs to Do to “Re-Inspire” Latino Voters:

Political science professor and founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, Barreto makes it clear that there are real dangers for Democrats behind the Republicans’ suppression strategy, in light of the Administration’s record deportations and lack of progress on tangible immigration reforms.  Barreto notes that while the President is “generally supported among Latinos, a yearlong tracking poll by Latino Decisions and impreMedia showed the support to be shallow, and enthusiasm for Obama to be lower than in 2008.  In a poll this year, just 30 percent of Latino voters say they are more excited about Obama after three years in office, while 53 percent say they were more excited in 2008. Likewise, while 38 percent are more excited about voting in 2012, 46 percent told us they were more excited about voting in 2008.  For Obama to reinspire Latino voters in 2012, he needs to do more than just make promises. As executive in chief, he has the power to direct immigration officials to stop deporting mothers of children who are U.S. citizens, or young people who wish to pursue their dream of a college degree or military service. In polls, three-quarters of Latinos want the president to stop deporting immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens and have families here in the U.S. and two-thirds of Latino voters support executive orders to stop the deportation of youth who would be eligible for the Dream Act.”

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