Election 2012: The Latino Vote

We’re less than a year out from the 2012 Presidential Election, and Latinos are poised to determine who occupies the White House! Our growing segment of the electorate may register and vote in droves (we hope)—or, unhappy with President Barack Obama’s record on job creation and immigration reform, many may choose to sit the election out.

The President’s challenger has not been chosen so the situation is in flux for Hispanic voters. Still, he is ahead of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney by a ratio of two-to-one, or 67% to 24%, among registered Latino voters in the 21 states with the highest Hispanic concentration. This is significantly less than the 31% of Latino support the 2008 GOP presidential nominee Senator John McCain received.

But here’s the rub. Latino voters are upset by the lack of immigration reform, which Obama promised as a candidate. That combined with the skyrocketing numbers of deportations have left many disillusioned. More than a million illegal immigrants have been removed during his three years in office, due in part to the controversial Secure Communities (SCOMM) program that requires local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of detained undocumented workers with the feds. 

Then there’s the economy. Hispanic voters have been disproportionately hit on the President’s watch: unemployment in the Latino community stands at 11.4% in comparison to the 9% national rate; in 2010 6.1 million Latino children lived in poverty—more than any other racial or ethnic group; and Hispanic household wealth fell 66%, from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,235 in 2009.

Like the President’s other 2008 supporters, this economic pain has sapped Latinos’ enthusiasm 

The Republican Party still has significant liabilities to overcome to win over the Latino vote. Obama did inherit the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression from his GOP predecessor George W. Bush, and an anti-immigrant tenor of the Republican debates that has been interpreted by many as anti-Hispanic.

Will the Republican hopefuls let up on immigration before the primaries begin in January? Not likely, given that these voters are more conservative than their general election counterparts.

Will Latinos cast ballots en masse for the future Republican ticket? Probably not. But low Hispanic voter turnout could hurt the President Obama in a tight race, especially in key Southwest battle ground states such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.