tags: , , , , , America’s Voice Research on Immigration Reform

Spotlight on Colorado: Immigration, Latino Voters, and the 2012 Elections

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September 2012

If you want to know how crucial the Latino vote is to one of the closest swing states in the presidential election, just look at what it did for Colorado in 2010.

In 2010, the immigration issue was key to building a “Latino firewall” in the West, ending that year’s “Republican wave” at the Rockies and lifting Democrats to victory in Colorado’s gubernatorial and Senate elections. In the Senate race, Latino voters helped Michael Bennet, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act and a consistent supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, defeat Ken Buck—who was endorsed by the extremist Americans for Legal Immigration Reform PAC (ALIPAC). In a race where Bennet’s margin of victory was a mere 15,000 votes, the overwhelming support of Latinos—81% of them voted for Bennet—made the difference. In the governor’s race, former Congressman (and anti-immigrant champion) Tom Tancredo ran as a third-party candidate, attempting to attack Democrat John Hickenlooper for supporting “sanctuary cities.” Latinos overwhelmingly supported Hickenlooper over Tancredo and Republican Dan Maes, and he cruised to victory.

According to exit polls, Latino turnout was up from 9% of the electorate in the 2006 mid-terms to 13% in 2010. Immigration was a major factor in driving Latino voters to the polls for Bennet and Hickenlooper.  In 2010, 29% of Latino voters in Colorado said that immigration was the most important issue in determining their vote, according to Latino Decisions’ election eve polling, and 57% said it was “the most important” or “one of the most important” issues.

This year, Colorado is a key swing state in the presidential race—and Latino voters could easily make the difference just as they did two years ago.


Polling of Latino Voters in Colorado

Unless otherwise indicated, all findings are from a June 2012 Latino Decisions/America’s Voice poll of 400 Latino voters in Colorado (part of a poll of 2,000 Latino voters across five battleground states). Full poll results for all states can be found here, and further analysis can be found here.

  • Colorado Latinos overwhelmingly support President Barack Obama. 70% of them expect to vote for the President in November, while 22% expect to vote for Mitt Romney. Only 8% were still undecided.
  • Immigration is a top-tier issue of importance to Latino voters in the state. When asked to name the most important issues to the community that the President and Congress should address, 39% named immigration among the most important issues. Thirty-one percent named “the economy” as one of the most important issues, and 19% named jobs among the issues to address.
  • Furthermore, Latino voters in Colorado have a direct connection not only to the immigration issue but to the realities of immigration enforcement. Sixty percent of them said they have a friend, relative or coworker who is undocumented. Furthermore, 35% of Latino voters in Colorado—over half of those who know someone undocumented—know someone who has been detained or deported.
  • Colorado voters are highly motivated. When asked how enthusiastic they were about voting in this election, 60% said they were very enthusiastic—and 88% said they were very enthusiastic or somewhat enthusiastic. This is higher than any other state polled by Latino Decisions—despite the fact that Colorado is the only state in the battleground poll that does not have a Senate race in 2012, while the other states (Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia) have Senate races that are also closely contested.
  • Part of this enthusiasm may be due to President Obama’s announcement in June granting relief from deportations to DREAMers. Over half of Latino voters polled—51%–said the announcement made them more enthusiastic about supporting Obama. Slightly more than that, 55%, said that knowing about Mitt Romney’s positions on immigration (including promising to veto the DREAM Act and supporting self-deportation) make them less enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Colorado Latinos By The Numbers


Latinos in Colorado (2010 Census)


Growth in Latino Population, 2000-2010 (2010 Census)


Latino Proportion of Eligible Voters (projection via William Frey/Ruy Teixeira, 2012)


Latino Proportion of Registered Voters (projection via Latino Decisions, 2012)


Competitive 2012 House Races*

House  District

Latino Pop %




Immigration in the Race

CO-3—Tipton (R)

19.7% (via DRA interactive map)

Sal Pace, state representative (D) vs. Scott Tipton, incumbent (R)

Lean R (Cook); 41st most likely to flip (NJ)

Tipton was an immigration hardliner in his first (unsuccessful) Congressional campaign in 2006. He was less strident (though still negative) in his response to President Obama’s DREAMer relief announcement, saying “we need to be sensitive to” DREAMers, but joined the rest of his GOP colleagues in complaining that the president should focus on jobs instead. Pace called the announcement “a step in the right direction.”

CO-6—Coffman (R)

24.0% (via DRA interactive map)

Joe Miklosi, state representative (D) vs. Mike Coffman, incumbent (R)

R toss-up (Cook); 29th most likely to flip (NJ)

Miklosi was a co-sponsor of the Colorado DREAM Act (which would have provided in-state tuition to DREAMers). Coffman voted against the full DREAM Act in Congress in 2010.

*When Colorado redrew its seven congressional districts, congressional Republicans and Democrats went to court over the redistricting process. The judge ruled in favor of one of the Democratic maps, in part because it best preserved “communities of interest” such as Hispanics—whose population had grown over the last decade. As a result, the 3rd and 6th districts, both currently held by Republicans, are now competitive (see above); the state has 3 districts that have remained safe Democratic seats, and 2 that are safe Republican seats.


Previous Election Data

Election Overall Result Latino Result Latino % of Electorate Latino Contribution
2010 Colorado Senate Bennet (D) 48% – Buck (R) 47% (CNN) Bennet 81% – Buck 19% (Latino Decisions) 10% (Latino Decisions) 6.2% to Bennet
2010 Colorado Governor Hickenlooper (D) 51% – Tancredo (I) 36% – Maes (R) 11% (CNN) Hickenlooper 77% – Maes 9% (Latino Decisions) 10% (Latino Decisions) 6.8% to Hickenlooper (Latino Decisions)
2010 Colorado U.S. House Races Republicans 50.14%-Democrats 45.42% (Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives) Democrats 84%-Republicans 16% (Latino Decisions) 10% (Latino Decisions) 6.8% to Democrats (Latino Decisions)
2008 Colorado Presidential Results Obama 54% – McCain 45% (CNN) Obama 61% – McCain 38% (CNN) 8.45% (2008 U.S. Census) 1.9% to Obama (2008 Census)
2008 Colorado U.S. House Races Democrats 55.16%-Republicans 43.38% (Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives) Not available 8.45% (2008 U.S. Census) Not available


Why Latino Turnout Matters In Colorado

In June 2012, Latino Decisions and America’s Voice Education Fund unveiled a new online tool, LatinoVoteMap.org, an interactive map that allows users to simulate different outcomes in the 2012 election by adjusting Latino turnout levels and candidate support.

NOTE: The Latino Vote Map is updated regularly with the most recent polling and registration data, so projections and estimates are subject to change, and the scenarios discussed here for the Latino vote may not lead to the same projections for the statewide vote. Double-check the projection for any scenario discussed here by clicking on Colorado, then moving the sliders above the map until the bottom two numbers in the box match the numbers in the screenshot provided. This section is based on the September 11th update to the map.

The Latino Vote Map currently labels Colorado a “virtual tie” in the general election—but one that leans slightly toward Obama. The median estimate for Latino turnout in Colorado, based on registration and Census data, is 12.0% percent of the electorate. If Romney gets 22% of Colorado Latino votes in November (consistent with his showing in the Latino Decisions poll from June), and 12.0% of Colorado voters are Latinos, Obama will win 47.5% of all votes in the state, and Romney will win 46.1%:

However, as Latino Decisions’ Matt Barreto has written, “even small fluctuations in the Latino vote have a profound impact on the presidential election results in Colorado.” In August, Barreto named Colorado  a “Tier 1” Latino vote state (along with Florida and Nevada), explaining: “In each of these states, if Latino voter turnout decreases, Barack Obama loses his lead to Mitt Romney.  Or, if turnout stays at expected levels, but Romney gains 10-15 points among Latino voters he wins all three of these key battlegrounds and their combined 44 electoral college votes.  There is absolutely no question Latinos will be influential in these three states.”

Unfortunately, the Republican state government in Colorado—like many Republican-governed states —is taking steps to influence the outcome of the election by suppressing the votes of Latinos and other minorities. As in Florida, the Colorado state government conducted a very visible campaign to “purge” the voter rolls of people they suspect to be noncitizens, sending 4,000 letters to registered voters ordering them to prove their eligibility. While the overwhelming majority were proven to be eligible to vote, and the Secretary of State has decided to abandon the purge (allowing county clerks to decide whether to pursue voters who haven’t yet proven eligibility) the episode is likely to make Latinos and naturalized citizens feel like they will be questioned at the polls. Even if Romney gets only 22% of the Latino vote in Colorado, he will still pull even with Obama if Latino voter turnout is as low as 9.4%:

Visit LatinoVoteMap.org to see for yourself how Latino voters are poised to influence the 2012 elections in Colorado and beyond.