Why Obama’s Re-Election Hinges On The Hispanic Vote
Hispanics, who were responsible for most of U.S. population growth in the last decade, have been a more important part of the electorate each election. Now the largest minority group in the United States, they are poised to play a potentially decisive role in this year’s contest between President Obama and his GOP opponent. This has been cause for concern by some Democrats, who worry that Obama’s record on immigration may depress his turnout and support within the Hispanic community; the data suggest, however, that they are worrying more than they should.
Consider first the national level. The Obama campaign will be relying heavily on the minority vote, which they hope will be larger in 2012 than in 2008. This is a reasonable expectation given historical trends, as the rise in minority vote share has closely tracked with the rise in minority population share. But there is no guarantee this will happen. Hispanics are the chief driver of the increasing minority population, and if their turnout falls off in 2012, the projected increase in the minority vote would likely not appear.
Sustaining high Hispanic turnout is necessary, but it is not sufficient. The Obama campaign also needs strong support from the minorities who do vote. My estimates suggest that Obama needs to get at least 75 percent of the minority vote in 2012 to have a secure basis for re-election, given likely drop-off in his white support. African-Americans are the biggest component of the minority vote and seem likely to give Obama the same overwhelming support they did in 2008.
But Hispanics, the second largest component of the minority vote, could be more problematic for Obama. They lack the special tie to Obama that black voters have and they have historically been more variable in their support for Democratic candidates. Moreover, there is significant discontent about Obama’s failure to deliver on immigration reform and the high level of deportations that have taken place on his watch. Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics has been hovering around 50 percent for a number of months, an unimpressive rating among a group that was supposed to be one of his strengths.
While Hispanics may not be completely delighted with Obama’s performance, though, they find him strongly preferable to his prospective GOP opponents. Recent data suggest that, despite all these factors, Hispanic support for Obama in 2012 may well replicate—or even exceed—the wide margin he received from these voters in 2008 (67-31). In a major survey by the Pew Hispanic Center—the gold standard for polling on Hispanics—Obama defeats Romney by 45 points (68-23), a margin 9 points greater than in 2008 (his margin is a little larger against other Republicans). The survey also finds the Democrats’ party identification advantage among Hispanics at 47 points (67-20), the greatest margin the Pew Hispanic Center has ever measured.