Obama builds commanding lead among Latinos

MIAMI – Latinos seem to be increasingly certain as to who is on their side and who is not.

A new poll released by Latino Decisions and America’s Voice shows that President Barack Obama has increased his standing amongst Latinos in battleground states to a “commanding lead” over GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Obama recently moved to halt deportations of young undocumented immigrants while continuing to make the case for passing the DREAM Act. The proposed legislation would give undocumented young people who are in college or serving in the military a path to citizenship.

Romney and other members of his party have condemned Obama’s move, accusing him of “going around” Congress. Speaking earlier today in front of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials convention in Orlando, Obama answered that charge. “In the face of a congress that refuses to do anything on immigration,” he said, “I’ve said that I’ll take action wherever I can. My administration’s been doing what we can without the help [of] Congress for more than three years now. Last week we took another step … We announced that we’re lifting the shadow of deportation of deserving young people who were brought to this country as children. It’s not amnesty. It falls short of where we need to be, a path to citizenship.”

Obama continued, calling on Congress to do more. “Precisely because [the move is] temporary, Congress still needs to come up with a long-term immigration solution, rather than argue that we did this the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons,” Obama said. “To those who are saying Congress should be the one to fix this – absolutely. To those who say we should do this in a bipartisan fashion – absolutely. My door’s been open for three and a half years. They know where to find me. I’ve said time and again, ‘Send me the DREAM Act, and I’ll sign it right away.’ And I’m still willing to work with anyone from either party to work for real reform.”

For his part, Romney has said that, were the DREAM Act to come across his desk as president, he would veto it.

For the new poll, five swing states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia – were studied. Obama trounced Mitt Romney by a margin of 63 to 27 percent.

Of course, Latinos are a heterogeneous group, and different Latino national groups tend to have different opinions, some more liberal, some more conservative. For example, Obama has a lesser lead in Florida, beating Romney by only 53 to 37 percent. Here, though the population is diversifying, the largest Latino group is still Cuban Americans, who have traditionally been more conservative and Republican than other Latinos. Still, the Florida results are an improvement in Obama’s favor: the results seem to be an increase from a January poll, which showed Obama beating Romney 60-40. Statistically, though, there may have been no change, as the results are within the poll’s margin of error.

In the southwest, where the immigration issue looms much larger, Obama took a far greater lead over Romney. In Arizona, Obama received 74 percent support, compared to 18 percent for Romney. The figures for 70 to 22 percent and 69 to 20 percent in Colorado and Nevada, respectively.

The poll also found that Latinos are becoming more supportive of Obama’s change to immigration rules favoring DREAM Act-eligible young people. On June 17, two days after Obama announced a halt in deportations of most undocumented youth, another poll, conducted by the same groups found that 49 percent of Latinos were more enthusiastic of Obama, and 14 percent less so. A later poll showed that as people learned more details, they became more enthusiastic about the president, with 58 percent of Latinos now saying they are enthusiastic, and only 9 percent saying they are less so.

All of this could lead to an uptick in turnout of Latino voters at election time. In November 2011, a poll from Latino Voices and Univision found that 33 percent of Latinos were more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than in 2008; now 48 percent say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year, compared to only 29 percent who say they were more enthusiastic four years ago.

Obama argued that Latinos, and especially the undocumented have no friend in Romney, saying, “In his speech, [Romney] said when he makes a promise to you he’ll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word.”

Nationally, 400 people were interviewed in each of the five states, and were weighted appropriately. Overall, the poll had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, but because samples were smaller, the margin of error for each state was about 4.9 points. In releasing the poll results, Latino Decisions announced a new website, Latino Vote Matters, aimed at tracking the Latino communities’ polling information.

Photo: Obama in the White House Rose Garden June 15, announcing the new rules for undocumented young people, via White House photo service.