The economy may be the defining issue of 2012, but immigration is the factor pumping up the Latino community as the election nears. New polling shows Obama’s recent DREAM Act move and the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration law are boosting Latino enthusiasm.
President Obama has long held an advantage with Latino voters: The current PollTracker Average puts his lead at nearly 25 points. But Obama needs more than just a majority of Latinos in order to win the election — he needs strong Latino turnout. On that front, the numbers paint a conflicting picture.
A Latino Decisions/America’s Voice poll found that 49 percent of Latino voters were more enthusiastic about Obama two days after his announcement to end deportations of some young illegal immigrants. “Over the course of the week, as the DREAMer relief received further attention in the Latino community, we found increased support for the announcement,” Latino Decisions pollsters wrote.
“The DHS announcement was certainly very visible, it was highly watched in the Latino community,” Latino Decisions pollster Matt Barreto said on a conference call Wednesday. “And it certainly helped President Obama — this is a dramatic turnaround in just a week’s time.”
Latino Decisions has found a enthusiasm numbers for Obama creeping up since late last year, but the uptick got more pronounced after President Obama’s executive directive to implement parts of the DREAM Act.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday could help drive enthusiasm even further. While the court struck down three sections of the Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants, the law’s most controversial element — the so-called “show me your papers” provision — remains intact, but could be challenged again in the future.
Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions said the fact that the provision is still in place could be a
motivating factor for Latino voters based on recent surveys showing that Latinos fear anti-Hispanic sentiment as a result of the ruling. Polling shows that Latinos around the country, not just in Arizona, fear the law’s implications.
But Arizona remains Ground Zero for the law’s impact — and some advocates believe it could turn the state into a legitimate battleground, even as Republicans insist they have the state solidly in hand.
“The amount of voter registration coming out of this decision could put Arizona in play,” Frank Sharry, the director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said on the conference call. Sharry said that Romney’s puzzling reaction to the ruling wasn’t doing him any favors with Hispanic voters, either. “I think that Romney’s lurch to the right in the primary and his inability to articulate a coherent new policy is benefiting [Obama],” Sharry said.
SB1070 has been “very motivating to the community here,” Ruben Gallego, a Democratic state representative from Phoenix, told TPM Monday. Gallego too believes the Supreme Court ruling will drive Latino turnout. “There’s a lot of people and a lot of Latino community leaders, and they’re gonna use this opportunity to retake a lot of the hill that was occupied in 2010.”
After the Supreme Court decision came down Monday, Gallego said activists showed up at a Phoenix press conference with signs that read “Romney, Arpaio, Brewer,” the latter two refer to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious Arizona sheriff being investigated by the Justice Department for alleged discrimination against Latinos, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the immigration crackdown into law.
“These kinds of activists aren’t necessarily big fans of Obama,” Gallego said. “But when some hardcore activists are down there and they’re putting Romney, Arpaio, Brewer in the same column, that’s a very bad political situation for Romney.”
Another poll, however, might slow Democrats from putting Arizona in the toss-up column just yet. A survey sponsored by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Telemundo and taken after the Latino Decisions poll did not register the same level of enthusiasm among Latino voters.
“Despite jumps in approval for the president and an increased margin over Romney with Hispanics, Latinos indicate they are no more enthused about voting this fall than they were a month ago,” NBC’s FirstRead wrote. “Their interest in this election remains far below 2008 levels, and lags well behind other key groups this cycle.”