Who Will Win the Latino Vote in 2012?
In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won four key battleground states—Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico—over Republican challenger John McCain. All four of those states went for Republican George W. Bush in 2004.
The Latino vote in those four states helped give Obama the win, adding 46 electoral votes to his decisive victory.
A Growing Minority
In 2008, Hispanics made up 9 percent of the electorate. This year, some estimates say, Hispanics will account for as much as 12 percent of the electorate, or nearly one in eight voters.
Other analysts challenge those numbers. One study of Census statistics showed that Hispanic voter registration actually dropped in 2006 and 2010.
The decline could be due to lower Hispanic interest in non-presidential elections. If so, a surge of registrations might still take place in 2012.
On the other hand, the drop in Latino registrations could also be due to social and economic factors, such as greater mobility. If a sizable number of Latinos have moved without registering in their new home states, this could suppress their voting clout. In response, advocacy groups are increasing voter registration efforts.
Key Hispanic States
Regardless of statistics, Hispanic votes will be crucial in key states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Nevada.
Experts describe these states as undecided, yet they account for 55 electoral votes. That’s 20 percent of the 270 threshold that either President Obama or likely GOP candidate Mitt Romney will need to win the election.
In 2008, Obama outpolled McCain nationally among Hispanics by a two-to-one margin, but those results were not unusual. While Cuban Americans have tended to vote Republican, Hispanics in general have typically voted Democratic.
Obama, Immigration, and Arizona
In 2008, Obama made several promises regarding immigration reform, traditionally a key issue for Hispanics and non-Hispanics. Critics say that Obama failed to keep those promises, pointing to states like Arizona, which filled the gap in federal law with its own more aggressive laws.
Arizona’s immigration laws recently came before the Supreme Court—a Court that includes Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Justice and an Obama appointee. If the Court’s June ruling upholds Arizona’s laws, other states might make their own Arizona-like laws. Both Democrats and Republicans are watching this closely.
Republicans Court Latinos
At the same time, polls among Latino voters have shown that this year, jobs and the economy will be more significant issues than immigration. Bettina Inclan, the Republican National Committee’s Director of Hispanic Outreach, recently said that Hispanics won’t be “single-issue voters” when they are experiencing high unemployment and increasing poverty.
Originally sponsored by Democrats, the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act has recently resurfaced. The program was designed to offer undocumented workers a path to citizenship.
This time, a compromise version of the DREAM Act is being backed by Republicans and has been championed by Senator Marco Rubio, a regular at the top of lists of potential running mates for Mitt Romney. The compromise bill is stalled in Congress, but it is clear that the Republicans see such legislation as a way to reach Latinos.
Latinos for Obama
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is mounting its own Hispanic-directed push. A key element in the initial effort is a bank of television commercials for Colorado, Florida, and Nevada that tout the president’s record on Hispanic issues.
Another part of his reelection effort is a “Latinos for Obama” push that will include ads and coordination of efforts to hold Obama house parties to deliver the message to small groups of Hispanics.