There are lingering anxieties and doubts among Latinos regarding everything from the sluggish state of the economy to inactivity on immigration reform. But, according to recent polling conducted by impreMedia and Latino Decisions, Latino voters appear to have developed a more favorable impression of President Barack Obama since midsummer 2010. Still, although his approval rating among Latinos has increased to an impressive 70% at the top of 2011, some 43% of that group’s voters are not quite certain they’ll be voting for him in 2012.
The poll comes at a time of renewed political rhetoric from opposing sides of the immigration debate, perhaps moved by the current state legislative session climate and sure to explode once the budget battles on Capitol Hill push the reality of cut domestic programs. While there is little chance of any movement on immigration reform this year during the 112th Congress, Latino voters have put a lot of thought into the topic as their population numbers grow and both parties mull over how best to leverage a growing electoral bloc. It is a primary factor driving Latino attitudes regarding President Obama. But, there is also a growing sense that the president has moved in the right direction on the issues that concern Latinos the most, just like every other demographic: jobs and the economy.
The approval rating, however, is spread over varying “degrees of support” with 32% strongly supporting the president and 38% somewhat approving. But, it’s a strong turn of support from Latino voters compared to the 57% approval rating assessed by Gallup in June and the 60% tabulated by Latino Decisions in September. The latest figures show diminished anxiety about the economy and immigration.
“[T]he image began to improve when there was a new attempt to approve the DREAM Act, which ended up failing,” observed Matt Barreto, Latino Decisions pollster and a professor in Political Science at the University of Washington. “There is no doubt that Obama has the ability to win the Latino vote, and he still has solid support within the community.”
“But when it comes to whether they will vote for him for sure,” cautions Barreto, pointing to the 43% claiming to vote for Obama. “Latinos show a margin of doubt.”
That margin of doubt has Democratic strategists worried about the level of Latino support in the 2012 elections and what impact that might have on the party’s candidates – from the President down to local candidates. While Democrats have enjoyed a healthy portion of the Latino electorate – generally hovering around 60% or more – there are mixed views on how enthusiastic that bloc is. Yet, 67% of Latinos voted for Obama in 2008.
Still, Democrats have little to worry about when glancing the numbers on the other side of the partisan aisle: only 9% of Latino voters said they would vote for a Republican candidate for president while only 8% said they might. Because of perceived GOP hostility to immigrants and the impression that Republicans are blocking comprehensive immigration reform (opinions solidified by staunch Republican opposition to the DREAM Act), the party is earning a reputation as being somewhat draconian on the issue of immigration. The failure to pass DREAM actually proved politically beneficial to Obama, as Latino voters perceived him as the good guy fighting bad Republicans.
That said, many experts on Latino voters argue the jury is still out on what this translates into in 2012.
“I think the most interesting story here is how badly the Republicans are faring with Latinos. It is as if Latinos are not pro-Democrat, but rather anti-Republican,” claimed Gary Segura, a political scientist at Stanford University.
“If Obama wants to be reelected, he is going to have to generate more enthusiasm among Latinos,” said Adrian Pantoja of Pritzer College. “Latinos are not enthusiastic about this government. In reality, there is little to be enthusiastic about. At the same time, the Republican party has not taken advantage of the opportunity to get closer to them; just the opposite.”