With 75 percent of the Latino vote, President Barack Obama received an unprecedented level of support from this community. But now that the buzz and the adrenaline of election night have subsided, the question is why. Why did Latinos not only support, but support in such overwhelming numbers a candidate who has overseen such a troubling time for Latinos?
Under the president’s watch, Latinos lost two-thirds of their wealth. They were the group hardest hit by the Great Recession and their recovery has been slower than for the general population. Turning to the immigration front, the president oversaw a record number of deportations. Adding insult to injury, he also did not keep his pledge of passing comprehensive immigration reform.
It seems that economic and immigration struggles would make Latino voters less, not more, likely to support the president than they were in 2008. However, this narrow focus misses the deeper ideological intersection between Latinos and the president on a broad swath of policies. And last but not least, the actions and inactions by the GOP toward Latinos in this electoral cycle drove Latinos to strengthen their ties with the Democratic Party.
Latinos had the worst of the economic downturn, a point that Mitt Romney highlighted throughout his campaign in the hope of getting Latinos to give him a chance to straighten out the economy. At first brush, this line of argument sounds logical. However, it falls apart when we look at whom Latinos hold responsible for the Great Recession. When asked whom they hold as most responsible for the economy not improving, the blame overwhelmingly falls on George W. Bush. Two-thirds of Latinos hold Bush responsible while less than twenty percent blame President Obama.
Beyond not blaming the president for the economic downturn, Latinos are also more supportive of his vision of economic recovery. In a Univision/ABC/Latino Decisions poll from earlier this year, registered Latino voters were asked, “Do you think it is better for the government to lower people’s taxes or that the government should invest resources in federal projects to stimulate the economy?” Over half of the respondents supported the more active role of the federal government.
Additionally, while Latinos have been the hardest hit by the recession, they are also increasingly optimistic about the economy. In a recent Pew Hispanic poll, half of Latinos are satisfied with the country’s direction and one-third report their personal finances are “good” or “excellent,” as opposed to only a quarter reporting the same last year. Latinos also have a positive outlook for the year to come, with close to three-quarters of Latinos expecting their finances to improve.
While the economy was the top issue of concern for Latinos during the 2012 election, immigration was a close second. Six out of every ten Latinos personally know someone who is an undocumented immigrant. In other words, immigration is a very personal issue for the Latinos community. Because of its relevance, President Obama’s lowest approval numbers came in mid 2011 after he oversaw an increase in deportations and did not pass comprehensive immigration reform. Coincidentally, in May 2011 President Obama shifted gears and put the spotlight back on the issue of immigration at a speech he gave in El Paso.
To begin, the president moved the focus from what he didn’t do to what he could do regarding immigration. The Obama Department of Justice came out in rabid pursuit of Arizona and its SB 1070 law, eventually coming before the Supreme Court. The President made it clear that he would not tolerate anti-immigrant state initiatives in Arizona or elsewhere.
Most recently the president put into place the Deferred Action program suspending the deportation of eligible youth and providing them work permits. As the president has acknowledged, it is not the ideal solution, but it is a step toward a larger solution. But most importantly, the Latino community has valued the Deferred Action program. According to the impreMedia-Latino Decisions election eve poll, close to 60 percent of registered Latino voters said that the Deferred Action program made them feel more enthusiastic about President Obama.
The strength of Latino support for President Obama in this past election was also due in no small part to the Republican Party. One of Romney’s main campaign platforms was the repeal of Obamacare. But it just so happens that this is an extremely popular program among Latinos, receiving the support of two-thirds of Latino voters. Another pillar of the Romney campaign was the revamping of Medicare to decrease the role of government, but three out of every four Latinos reject this idea. The GOP was not just not connecting with Latinos in the policy realm, it was attacking the programs Latinos most support.
And finally, the Republican Party’s approach in this election cycle to immigration put the nail in Romney’s coffin. Mitt Romney rejected any idea of a comprehensive immigration reform, costing him the support of one-third of the Latino community. And beyond the policy stances is the issue of sensibilities; Mitt Romney’s reference to self-deportation, “illegals” and border walls was the last straw. This perceived disrespect motivated Latinos to see that Romney and his party would not end up in the White House.
There is no straightforward answer to why three out of every four Latinos voted for President Obama. Instead, that 75 percent support is made up of a variety of factors ranging from ideology, to concrete policy positions, to campaign strategies. The question now, however, is whether the GOP will react and seek to chip away at the Democrat’s 75 percent or whether they will continue with more of the same.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino and MSNBC contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.