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Leveraging the Latino Vote in '12

Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas Schaller has a post up at Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball, "The Latino Threshold: Where the GOP Needs Latino Votes and Why" mulling over different scenarios for allocation of the Hispanic vote for President in '12. In assessing Republican prospects with Hispanics in the upcoming presidential election, Schaller cites three key considerations:

First, as the white share of the electorate shrinks, the share of the Latino vote Republicans need to remain competitive will gradually inch higher. It is axiomatic that if one party attracts a minority share of votes from any group or subset, if that subset is growing as a share of the electorate these losses are magnified. Republicans get roughly the same share of the vote from Asian Americans as Latinos. But GOP losses among Asian Americans are less punitive overall because the Asian American vote is smaller and growing less fast as a share of the electorate than are Latino voters.

Second, whatever threshold the GOP needs to maintain--40 percent, 45 percent--will zigzag up and down a bit between midterm and presidential elections. Because midterm electorates trend older, whiter and more affluent, until and unless the Democrats can find ways to mobilize presidential-cycle voters in off years, the GOP's Latino competitiveness threshold drops slightly in midterms before rising again in presidential years.

Finally, the Latino vote is of course not uniformly distributed across districts and states. So the calculus varies depending upon geography. In states where Latino voters are paired with significant African American populations--such as Florida, New York or Texas--the Republican cutoff is higher; where Latinos represent the bulk of non-white voters--such as Colorado or Nevada--the threshold is easier to reach.

Schaller doesn't discuss a worrisome scenario for Dems, in which the Republicans nominate Sen. Marco Rubio for vice president, which would likely ice Florida for the GOP presidential candidate and maybe even help them get a bigger bite of the Latino vote elsewhere. Rubio only got 55 percent of the Latino vote in Florida's Senate contest. I say only, because I would have expected a higher figure. But even assuming he would be a big asset on the GOP ticket, and assuming Dems lose NC and VA, Dems would likely have to win Ohio, or all of the remaining three swing states with large Latino populations, NM, NV and CO.

In terms of public opinion, Schaller explains:

...Is Obama's Latino support holding steady?

On Monday, impreMedia and Latino Decisions released a new survey showing a strangely bifurcated answer to this question: Although 70 percent of Latinos approve of Obama's performance as president, only 43 percent say they will for certain vote for him in 2012. Of the poll results, impreMedia pollster Pilar Marrero writes that "doubts about the president and the Democrats are not turning into support for the Republicans."

To win re-election, President Obama must close the sale again with Latinos during the next two years. But if recent numbers from Public Policy Polling in key swing states are any indication, at least in potential head-to-head matchups against Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and (most especially) Sarah Palin, Obama is in as good a shape if not better in all four of Latino-pivotal swing states.

Regarding the Latino Decisions poll, Ed Kilgore's take is a little different:

The president's job approval rating in this poll is at 70%, up from 57% in the last LD survey in September. The percentage of respondents saying they are "certain" they will vote to re-elect Obama is at a relatively soft 43%; but with "probables" and leaners, his "re-elect" number rises to 61%. Meanwhile, the total percentage of Latinos inclined to vote for a Republican candidate in 2012 is at 21%, with only 9% certain to vote that way. It's worth noting that in most polls, a "generic" Republican presidential candidate has been doing a lot better than named candidates in trial heats against Obama. And the 61-21 margin he enjoys among Latinos in this survey compares favorably with the 67-31 margin he won in 2008 against John McCain.

With the Republican presidential nominating process more than likely pushing the candidates towards immigrant-baiting statements, and with Latinos having relatively positive attitudes towards the kind of federal health care and education policies the GOP will be going after with big clawhammers, it's hard to see exactly how the GOP makes gains among Latinos between now and Election Day...

Democrats received 64 percent of the Latino vote in the mid-terms, with Republican candidates winning 34 percent. After crunching all of the numbers, Schaller concludes "Republicans don't need to carry the Latino vote--yet--but in the near term, and particularly in presidential cycles, they need to stay reasonably competitive, whereas Kilgore concludes of GOP hopes for '12, in light of Hispanic opinion trends, "They'd better hope their 2010 margins among white voters hold up."

In between those two perspectives, there are lots of variables that can influence Hispanic turnout and voter choices in different directions. But it's certain that Democrats stand to benefit, perhaps decisively, from a greater investment in Latino naturalization, voter education and turnout.