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Teixeira: Latino Vote Key to 2012 Outcome

TDS co-editor Ruy Teixeira, one of the top experts on demographics and political opinion, has an important post up at The New Republic, "Why Obama's Re-Election Hinges On the Hispanic Vote." Teixeira, author of "Red, Blue, & Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics," explains why a high turnout among Hispanic voters, while important, is not all that President Obama needs from this constituency for re-election:

...My estimates suggest that Obama needs to get at least 75 percent of the minority vote in 2012 to have a secure basis for re-election, given likely drop-off in his white support...Hispanics, the second largest component of the minority vote, could be more problematic for Obama. They lack the special tie to Obama that black voters have and they have historically been more variable in their support for Democratic candidates. Moreover, there is significant discontent about Obama's failure to deliver on immigration reform and the high level of deportations that have taken place on his watch. Obama's approval rating among Hispanics has been hovering around 50 percent for a number of months, an unimpressive rating among a group that was supposed to be one of his strengths.

At present, notes Teixeira, Obama has an impressive edge with Latino voters, despite the aforementioned concerns:

While Hispanics may not be completely delighted with Obama's performance, though, they find him strongly preferable to his prospective GOP opponents...Hispanic support for Obama in 2012 may well replicate--or even exceed--the wide margin he received from these voters in 2008 (67-31). In a major survey by the Pew Hispanic Center--the gold standard for polling on Hispanics--Obama defeats Romney by 45 points (68-23), a margin 9 points greater than in 2008 (his margin is a little larger against other Republicans). The survey also finds the Democrats' party identification advantage among Hispanics at 47 points (67-20), the greatest margin the Pew Hispanic Center has ever measured.

And the Republican frontrunner is helping Obama keep his edge:

...Romney has been aggressively conservative in an effort to outflank his more ideological opponents. He's promised to veto the DREAM Act if it comes to his desk as president, opposes in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and rejects any path to citizenship for the undocumented. More generally, he has consistently sneered at any sign of softness among his primary opponents on these issues, raising the specter of an increasing flood of illegal immigrants coddled by the law and provided with benefits they don't deserve.

Teixeira sees bright prospects for the President if he can secure the strong support of Hispanic voters:

If Hispanic support for the President winds up as strong as it now appears and their turnout holds up--giving Obama at least 75 percent of what should be around 28 percent of the entire vote--the benefits to the Obama campaign would be huge. Crucially, it would give him considerable leeway to lose white support but still win the popular vote. In fact, my estimates indicate that Obama, with this level of minority support, could do just as badly as John Kerry did with the white working class (a 23 point deficit) and white college graduates (an 11 point deficit) and still defeat his opponent. The current level of Hispanic support for the President even suggests that he might come close to matching his 80-percent overall support from minority voters in 2008. If that occurs, he has even more leeway to lose white votes. Amazingly, he could approach the levels at which Congressional Democrats lost these two groups in 2010 (30 points and 19 points, respectively) and still win the popular vote.

As Teixeira points out, however, electoral votes are a little trickier. But Latino strength in "the new swing states of the Southwest--Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico" give Obama a significant edge:

...In these three states, Hispanics dominate the minority vote, which averages 36 percent of voters...If Obama does manage to hold them in addition to the five "easiest" Midwest/Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa), he would likely be only be two electoral votes short of victory, even without Ohio or any of the New South states (Florida, North Carolina, Virginia).

Teixeira concludes that "The prospects simply look too good for Hispanic support for Obama," adding that "...Republicans have sacrificed more than they anticipated by ratcheting up the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the primary season; they may have sacrificed the election."