By Sue Weishar, Ph.D.
“The Latino giant is wide awake, cranky, and taking names, “Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and a leader in Latino voter mobilization in battleground states, told reporters the day after the 2012 presidential election. Medina was referring to election data showing Barack Obama was reelected with overwhelming support from the fastest growing voting bloc in the U.S.--Hispanic voters. In the 2012 presidential race Hispanic voters comprised their largest share ever of the U.S. electorate, 10 percent, up from 8.5 percent in 2008. The number of registered Latino voters increased 26 percent in the last four years, to 12.2 million. (Still that is only half of the nearly 24 million Hispanic citizens eligible to vote.) Nation-wide 71 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, while 27 percent voted for Mitt Romney. Romney’s hard-line position on immigration in the Republican primaries and Obama’s executive order in June halting deportation of young undocumented immigrants are believed to have had greatly influenced Hispanic voters’ opinions of the candidates. Election eve polls from Latino Decisions found that half of Hispanic voters said Romney “does not care about Latinos” and 18 percent said he was “hostile to Latinos”. In contrast, 66 percent of Hispanic voters polled said Obama “truly cares about Latinos.” It was Hispanic voters’ strong support for Barack Obama in several key battleground states that assured his reelection, including the one Gulf South state in that group, Florida.
In Florida Hispanics made up 17 percent of the 2012 electorate (vs. 14 percent in 2008). In 2008 Obama carried Florida’s Hispanic vote by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent. The president improved his showing among Florida Hispanics by a 60 percent to 39 percent margin in 2012. Thirty four percent (34 percent) of Hispanic voters in Florida are Cuban. Florida’s Cuban voters were split between Obama and Romney, with a slight majority (49 percent) favoring Obama over Romney (47 percent). Among Florida’s non-Cuban Hispanic voters, Obama won 66 percent of the vote versus 34 percent for Romney.
The 2012 presidential race resulted in the greatest gender gap, 20 points, since Gallup began polling the metric in 1952. Obama beat Romney among women by 12 points, 56 percent to 44 percent. Romney bested Obama among men by 8 points, 54 percent to 46 percent. There was a gender gap in the Hispanic vote as well, with 76 percent of Hispanic women and 65 percent of Hispanic men casting votes for Barack Obama.
Nation-wide young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 strongly supported Obama over Romney by 23 points (60 percent to 37 percent). However, Obama’s margin of support was more than double that with Hispanic young voters, who overwhelmingly favored the president by 51 points (74 percent to 23 percent).
Since 1972, every presidential candidate who has won the popular vote has also won the Catholic vote. This trend held true in 2012, despite U.S. Catholic bishops’ strong opposition to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Latinos’ formidable support for the reelection of Barack Obama tilted the overall Catholic vote to Obama over Romney by a 50 to 48 percent margin. Latino Catholics, who comprise a third of all Catholics in the U.S., overwhelmingly favored Obama over Romney by a 75 percent to 21 percent margin. In contrast 58 percent of white Catholics voted for Romney, while 40 percent voted for Obama.
After the economy, the issue that mattered most to Latino voters was immigration. What does Latino voters’ strong support for President Obama mean for the future of immigration reform? President Obama told the Des Moines Register in October that he was “confident about immigration reform in the second term.” Shortly after the election, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters regarding immigration reform, “it’s time to get the job done.” It is clear from national polling data that there exists support in both political parties for such action. According to a national exit poll conducted by Edison Research, voters, by 65 to 28 percent, said that most illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, rather than be deported. Whereas Democrats polled 79 to 14 percent in favor of legalization, even a majority of Republicans support legalization over deportation (51 to 42 percent). Of the ethnic groups profiled, African Americans most strongly supported legal status for undocumented immigrants, by an 81 to 12 percent margin. This is even a greater margin than among Hispanic voters (77 to 18 percent), perhaps reflecting African Americans’ long struggle for full legal status, including the right to vote, in our country.
The “sleeping giant” has finally gotten the attention it deserves. In a post-election analysis, Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican Party chairman who now heads the American Conservative Union said, “There are 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month. The path for the White House needs to go through the Latino community.” In an interview on NBC’s Today Show after the election, Haley Barbour, the former Governor of Mississippi and past chairperson of the National Republican Committee, urged immigration reform as a way to woo Hispanic voters. Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, summed up the perspective of many political observers regarding the Latino vote: “The demographic writing is on the wall: Republicans and Democrats alike should begin working now toward creating an inclusive society for the future, or risk losing the heart of future American votes.”
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