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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Latino Vote: Where it Matters Most

Much has been written about the growing power of Latino voters nation-wide. When it comes to the presidential election, however, their influence will likely be felt most in four to six states. Some interesting stats in that regard from Michael Scherer’s post “Predicting the Latino Vote in 2012” at Time Swampland:

In national elections since the early 1990s, Republicans have had a floor of about 20% among Latinos, a group that includes a large population of Cuban Americans in Florida. Democrats have always won at least 55%. So about 25% of the Latino vote is at play in the middle. (In one survey, Romney now polls at 14% among Latinos, though that poll, for the moment, is an outlier.)
So when we consider the impact of Latinos in 2012, we are looking at a swing between about a 20% vote share for Republicans and a 45% vote share. The question that follows is how much of an impact this swing will have on the final electoral college results. The polls that really matter are state-by-state surveys, not national ones.
Latinos are expected to make up about one in ten voters this year, but many of those votes, in big states like Texas, California and New York, will have no impact on the electoral college, since those states are not in play for Romney. But Latinos can have a big impact on the outcomes in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, and a marginal impact in states like North Carolina and Ohio, all of which both parties will contest.
The polling firm Latino Decisions, which is the gold standard of Latino-American polling, recently put out a report on the impact of Latinos in these states. They found that for every eight points that Republicans lose among Latinos in states like Colorado and Nevada, the party needs to pick up another single point among non-Latino voters in order to not lose ground statewide.
For example, if Obama gets 69% of the Latino vote in Nevada (ceding to Romney just 31%), then Obama can still win the state by capturing only 47% of the non-Latino vote (ceding to Romney 53%). If Obama gets a little more than 63% of the Latino vote, then he needs to get 48% of the non-Latino vote….

Romney will be walking back a lot of his Latino-bashing primary talk in the months ahead to make even a little dent in the Democratic advantage with this key constituency. As Scherer concludes, “As the Romney campaign rejiggers for the general election, there will be a pivot, at least in tone, to appeal to Latino voters. The tough talk-advocating “self-deportation” and calling Arizona a “model” for the nation-will almost surely give way to more positive talk about the need for fair reforms to immigration law.”

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