Four years ago, 67 percent of Latino voters supported Barack Obama, but it is not at all certain that he will keep that level of support this time. Latinos are not blind followers of Obama. Tracking polls by ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions show that their enthusiasm for the president dropped precipitously in 2010 and 2011 when the administration didn’t deliver on its promises for immigration reform and when deportations of illegal immigrants spiked.
4. Latino voters care most about immigration.
Recent tracking polls of Latino registered voters show that they are most concerned about job creation and fixing the economy. Immigration reform ranks second in importance, followed closely by education and health care.
That is not saying that Latino voters are unconcerned about the ongoing prosecution and deportation of undocumented immigrants; you cannot separate the concerns of Latino citizens from those of illegal immigrants. Many families include legal citizens and undocumented aliens, and according to a 2011 ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions poll, 53 percent of registered Latino voters know someone who is here and undocumented, and 25 percent know someone who has faced detention or deportation for immigration reasons.
Even U.S.-born Latinos are not indifferent to the problems of undocumented immigrants. Polls show a strong consensus among Latino voters for reform that provides an earned pathway for legalization and possible citizenship.
5. Latino voters are swayed by the presence of a Latino candidate on the ballot.
Many people assume that Latinos are more likely to vote for a Latino candidate, or even just a Spanish-speaking one. But this is true only if that candidate’s issue positions are congruent with the Latino voter’s concerns and policy preferences. Indeed, substantive positions matter more than a last name or skin color.
In the 2010 New Mexico gubernatorial election, for example, Democrat Diane Denish received 61 percent of the Latino vote, while Republican Susana Martinez — with her tough stance on immigration and border control — got only 38 percent. (Martinez still won.)
And though Republican Marco Rubio won a majority of the Latino vote in his Florida Senate race that same year, this was largely because of support from his own Cuban American community. Among non-Cuban Latinos, Rubio won only 40 percent of the vote.
Valerie Martinez-Ebers is a professor of political science at the University of North Texas and a co-editor of the American Political Science Review. She is a co-author of “Latino Lives in America: Making It Home” and “Latinos in the New Millennium.”