When President Barack Obama said recently in an interview that Latinos would be critical to his re-election victory, boy, was he right.
A historic number — 71 percent of Latinos — voted for Obama‘s re-election, the highest Latino support for any presidential candidate in the nation’s history. And after years in which the country had to claw back from a recession and high unemployment, President Obama got higher marks from Hispanics than in 2008, when he won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote.
“We’ve been talking about this all year — that Obama had high support among Latinos, especially in key states — but tonight, it came to fruition,” says Matt Barreto, a co-principal at Latino Decisions and a political science professor at the University of Washington.
Latino voters were key in delivering battleground states. In Colorado, 87 percent of Latinos voted for Obama. In Ohio, it was 82 percent, and in Virginia, it was 66 percent. Strong Latino Democratic support also played a big factor in key Senate races. In Massachusetts, Obama got 89 percent of the Latino vote, and Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren received 86 percent of the Latino vote, “one of the decisive factors in putting her over the top,” according to Barreto.
The vote for the Obama/Biden ticket was also a strong rejection of the policies advocated by the Romney/Ryan ticket, according to Latinos who have been tracking voter sentiment. On immigration, says Barreto, “Republicans’ rhetoric early in the primary, with their talks of electric fences and deportation, set them up for disaster.” On health care policy, 66 percent of Latinos believe in the government’s role in ensuring health care access, “yet Governor Romney repeatedly said he would repeal Obamacare on Day 1, even though 61 percent of Latinos want to keep Obamacare,” says Barreto.
On jobs and the economy, more than 4 out of 10 Latino voters support a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit, and only 12 percent of Latinos support “only spending cuts,” which was in line with the Romney-Ryan plan. “Many Latinos we polled were nervous over the Ryan budget and its proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid,” Barreto says.
The rejection of those policies, say Latino observers, greatly benefited President Obama in the polls. “The enthusiasm of Latino voters in this election reflects not only support for Obama and his policies, but dislike for the policies of Romney and the GOP,” says Cristina Beltran, a professor of cultural and social analysis at New York University.
At 23 percent, Governor Romney’s Latino support is dramatically lower than Bush’s support in 2004, and John McCain’s 31 percent Latino support. “Republicans have to evaluate what policy platforms they will be endorsing, and how they communicate with Latino voters,” says Barreto.
“In their post-mortem of the election, the Republican party needs to do some soul-searching when it comes to the Latino community,” says Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, adding, “it is in our community’s best interests to have both parties actively and vigorously campaigning for our vote.”