President Obama’s Image Takes a Hit Among Latinos

by Pilar Marrero on August 24, 2011

The most recent poll of Latino voters reveals a continuing political problem for President Barack Obama, which he must address if he wants to get re-elected next year. The number of Latinos who are certain to vote for Obama in 2012 does not reach the level needed to, at this point, obtain the supermajority of votes the president needs to win certain difficult states, such as New Mexico, Colorado and other western states. The most recent impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll, conducted between late July and early August, showed this result.

Currently, only 38% of Latino voters are certain they will vote for the president next year. This number was 43% in February, when impreMedia/Latino Decisions did a similar poll, and it had increased to 49% in June after the capture of Osama bin Laden and Obama’s speech in El Paso reaffirming his support on immigration. As reflected below, the poll also found that only half of Latino voters are “very enthusiastic” about voting in the presidential election next year, while 26% are “somewhat enthusiastic.”

Gabriel Sánchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico and Director of Research for Latino Decisions, said that President Obama still maintains a wide lead in his approval rating among Latinos compared to the rest of the population, but the movement of the numbers and the lack of enthusiasm for voting could signal a political problem for the Democrats. “Without a doubt, as we can see, a majority of Latinos say they will vote for Obama, but will enough of them actually come out to vote?” said Sánchez. “In 2008, the Latino vote for Obama was 68%, and this time he will a similar showing among Latino voters.” The fluctuations of the vote right now, so far from the election, may not mean much for the final result. However, they are a sign for President Obama that he is losing ground with a group of voters he needs for re-election. “In certain states where the president will have a tough fight (to win the electoral college), great enthusiasm from groups like the Latinos is needed—a supermajority, as a way of saying it,” said Sánchez. “If he loses ground there, even if it is by a few points and with less participation at the polls, he could be in trouble.”

Latinos and African-Americans, among other specific groups of voters, were essential in 2008, providing supermajorities in key states and tipping the scales in Obama’s favor. A supermajority means obtaining a vote that is not a simple 50% majority, but rather 65% or more. Also, these voters need to be enthusiastic and come out to vote—just like the Republicans or conservatives who are trying to oust a Democratic president whom they have seriously criticized and tried to discredit probably are.

Matt Barreto, a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle and advisor to Latino Decisions, said that the voting intentions favoring Obama show a dangerous trend, since there is a percentage of Latino voters who are moving from the “strongly approve” column to “somewhat approve.” Meaning they still see the president in a positive light, but something has made them become less enthusiastic. “Much of the change we’ve seen in these months of polls, where the president has gone up and down in Latino polls, has to do with what’s happening now in the public arena,” said Barreto.

The approval rate and voting intentions favoring Obama, not only among Latinos but on a national level, increased after the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. The president also obtained positive results after his speech on immigration in early May in El Paso, Texas. Nevertheless, for this most recent poll, the economy and the handling of the debt crisis and the deficit were on the minds of many. So much so that in this poll, the economic issue returned to the top of the list of concerns for Latinos, after being displaced by immigration for several months. “Many people are upset about the debt deal, and in this same poll we saw that Latinos don’t want to see reductions or cuts in services,” said Barreto.

Apparently, this issue had some impact on Obama’s image among Latinos in the current poll. Over the last days and weeks, the Obama administration has taken steps to address this issue. An interesting point, as with prior polls, is that the decrease in the approval ratings or voting intentions favoring Obama does not translate into gains for the Republican side. Instead, voters remain “undecided.”For example, the Republican voting intentions among Latino voters remain the same, and they are at one of the lowest levels in the country’s history.

The progression of answers to the four polls conducted since February reveals that the Latino Republican vote continues being more or less the same, and it has not been affected by the fluctuations in President Obama’s approval rating. Only 10% of Latino voters said they are certain to vote for a Republican, while 8% said they may vote for a Republican for president. Another 4% said they are still undecided but leaning toward a Republican candidate. These percentages add up to a soft 22% that does not offer much hope to this political party, whose “brand” has become severely damaged in the eyes of Latinos, among other reasons for its tough attitude on immigration and the use of only program cuts to balance the budget.

METHODOLOGY: LD polled 500 Latino registered voters between July 27 and August 9 in the 21 states with the largest Hispanic populations, representing 95% of the electorate. Those interviewed were selected at random from voters lists. The poll includes interviews conducted via cell phone and land line telephones. The margin of error is +/-4.3%. The interviews were conducted in English or Spanish at the request of the respondent.

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