Latino Voters Make Noise in Battleground States

Recent polls in Arizona and Colorado track the Latino vote.

Oct. 11, 2012— -- Latino voters in several battleground states are considerably more enthusiastic about the 2012 election than the average Latino voter nationally. They also strongly prefer President Barack Obama over his challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, according to new data released this week.

While nationally only 53 percent of Latino voters said they were "very enthusiastic" about voting in the 2012 election, in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida, between 68 and 70 percent of Latino voters said they felt that way. The surveys were conducted by political opinion research firm Latino Decisions for America's Voice, a liberal pro-immigration reform group.

"It took a lot of convincing at first, to let people know you really need to register to vote [because] your vote is important this year," said Grace López Ramírez, the Colorado state director of Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan organization. "Finally it's getting into the community's brain that we are three weeks away from the election."

Weekly tracking polls of Latino voters in all 50 states show strong support for the president, with the latest survey showing 72 percent support for Obama and 20 percent support for Romney.

In Colorado, however, Latinos prefer Obama to Romney 74-20 percent. And in Arizona, the president has a whopping 80-14 percent edge among Latino voters. Latinos are also helping keep the U.S. Senate race in Arizona close; 75 percent back Democrat Richard Carmona and 12 percent support Republican Jeff Flake.

The numbers help underline how President Obama and Democrats have grown their Latino support to make Colorado a swing state and have also placed Arizona in their sights as a state they could one day flip from red to blue.

Unsurprisingly, immigration policy -- ranked behind jobs and the economy as the second most important issue in the most recent national tracking poll of Latino voters -- helps explain these trends.

When Latino voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia were asked in a June poll if they approved or disapproved of how Obama has handled immigration, 55 percent approved, with 35 percent saying they disapproved.

The results reflect what many see as Obama's checkered immigration record: On one hand, he's been criticized as "deporter-in-chief" for the record number of deportations during his tenure; on the other, he has used his executive power to halt deportations of and give work permits to an estimated 1.7 million undocumented young people. He supports the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for the same young people, but he also failed to generate enough congressional support to pass any sort of immigration reform bill during his four years in office.

In comparison, Romney's numbers are poor. When reading Romney's tough positions on immigration, including his support for "self-deportation," 64 percent say those positions made them less enthusiastic about the Republican candidate.

Gabriel Sanchez, director of research at Latino Decisions, said that Obama's immigration policies played out in the polling results, leaving Latino voters to choose between a sitting president with a mixed record and a challenger supporting controversial policies like "self-deportation."

"For the average Latino voter, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Sanchez said. "Do you go with the known commodity...or do you go with self-deportation?"