President Barack Obama has strengthened his lead among Latino voters over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but it remains an open question whether turnout will live up to expectations, according to a new poll released Thursday.
A Pew Hispanic Center survey shows that Latino registered voters prefer Obama over Romney 69-21 percent. In nine battleground states -- including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia -- Obama's margin among Latino voters is 65-23 percent, only slightly less than his national lead.
The poll further illustrates a disturbing trend for Romney: the so-called "Latino vote" appears to be out of reach just 25 days before Election Day.
If anything, the Pew poll is forgiving to Romney. A weekly tracking poll out Monday from political opinion research firm Latino Decisions showed Obama leading 72-20 percent and surveys by CNN/ORC and NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo last week showed the president ahead 70-26 percent and 71-21 percent respectively.
Obama has been able to weather critiques over the lack of progress on immigration reform and record deportations, as well as a less-than-stellar jobless situation, to increase his share of the "Latino vote" from 2008, when he defeated Sen. John McCain by 36 percentage points. The Romney campaign set a goal of winning 38 percent of the "Latino vote," but the candidate appears well short of that figure.
With the campaign growing increasingly close after the first debate, strong Latino support could help buoy Obama going forward.
Still, the survey was conducted between September 7 and October 4, meaning it was only in the field one day after the first presidential debate that Romney won. So it is difficult to say whether his performance allowed him to make inroads among Latino voters since then.
Obama's lead is built on increasing economic optimism among Latino voters and his decision to circumvent Congress and provide relief for young undocumented immigrants, according to Pew.
Seven in ten Latino voters believe their financial situation will improve in the next year and 45 percent are happy with the direction of the country, compared to 28 percent of all voters.
Eighty-six percent of Latino voters approve of Obama's deferred action program for DREAMers, a program that has personally affected many of their friends and family members. About a quarter of Latino voters say they know someone who was applied for the program and know someone who has been deported or detained in the past year.
There is no doubt immigration has served as a powerful issue in this campaign, but 34 percent list it as an "extremely important" issue for them personally, compared to 55 percent who say the same for education, 54 percent for the economy, and 50 percent for healthcare.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party's brand continues to struggle in the Latino community. Sixty-one percent tell Pew that the Democratic Party has more concern for Latinos, up from 45 percent in 2011. Only 10 percent say that the GOP has more concern.
Pew reports that allegiance to the Democrats among Latino voters is at its highest level since at least 1999, with 70 percent identifying or leaning toward the party and 22 percent identifying with or leaning toward the Republicans.
The nagging question is whether Obama and Democrats can capitalize on this support when it comes to turnout.
Pew estimates that 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote this year, 11 percent of the overall electorate. And a separate estimate from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projects that a record 12.2 million will vote on Election Day.
But whether that projection will hold true is hard to tell. It's not clear exactly how many eligible Latino voters are registered, but that number has lagged in past elections. And 77 percent of Latino registered voters say they plan to vote, compared to 89 percent of all voters who say the same.
Separate surveys, however, have indicated that Latino enthusiasm about voting is up from earlier this year. And Obama holds a 72-22 percent lead among those who say they are "absolutely certain" to vote, compared to 66-20 percent among those who say they might vote.
One slice of data in an otherwise tough survey that Republicans could take solace in: 71 percent of Latino voters back controversial voter ID laws, only six points lower than the general population.