Romney's dwindling opportunity to win Latino support

PHOTO: Latino voters are a precious resource for presidential candidates.

Chicago Public Radio

The minority vote looks rock solid for President Obama as we head toward November's election, coming very close to the 80 percent support level he received in 2008.

Part of this of course is due to overwhelming backing from black voters. But it was more or less expected that African-American voters would continue to support the first African-American president by very lopsided margins. It was less expected that Latinos would be as strong as they have been so far for Obama. Indeed, in ten national polls of Hispanics since December of last year, Latino voters have favored Obama over Romney by an average of 44 points, substantially higher than the margin of 36 points they gave Obama in 2008.

It is striking how uniform this support appears to be across segments of the Latino population. In a July Latino Decisions poll, Obama was ahead of Romney 70-22 percent among all voters. This included margins of 72-19 among the foreign-born, 69-25 among the U.S. born, 76-15 among Spanish speakers, and 66-28 among English speakers. In addition, Obama was ahead 72-20 percent among those who said they voted in 2008 (Obama actual margin in 2008 was "only" 67-31).

How important is a strong overall minority vote to Obama? Without it, he cannot absorb the additional losses he is expected to suffer among white voters this November, particularly white working-class voters. But if the minority vote remains as strong as it is now, Obama can still win even if Romney's advantage among white working-class voters is far greater than John McCain's 18 point margin in 2008. In short, the minority vote, where a big Latino margin is so vital, is Obama's insurance policy in a year when he is sure to receive a reduced share of the white vote.

In addition, judging from eligible voter trends, minorities should be a larger share of voters in 2012 than 2008, making that insurance policy all the more potent. Since Hispanics are providing the bulk of the increase in minority eligible voters, without solid Hispanic turnout—still a question mark given relatively low voter enthusiasm among Hispanics—the projected increase in minority voters is not likely to happen. That would enhance the importance of Obama's white working class problem.

Of course, the election is still two and a half months away. There's still a chance Romney could undercut Obama's support among Hispanics and weaken the minority voting bloc backing Obama. But Romney's recent selection of Paul Ryan as a vice presidential running mate augurs poorly for Romney's chance of doing so.

Start with Ryan's positions on immigration. There is essentially no daylight between his positions and those Romney supports; Ryan, like Romney, opposes any path toward citizenship or permanent legal status for illegal immigrants and Ryan, like Romney, opposes the DREAM Act. Ryan has the additional distinction of having voted against the proposal in Congress, something Romney never had the opportunity to do.

Then there are Ryan's famously hard line positions on massively cutting spending, particularly on Medicare, while ruling out any tax increases for the affluent. Recent Latino Decisions data show that Latinos oppose cutting spending on Medicare to reduce the national debt by an overwhelming 73-22 margin. And just 8 percent think cutting spending without raising taxes on the wealthy is the best approach to reducing the budget deficit. Finally, 55 percent of Hispanics think more federal spending to stimulate the economy is a better way to grow the economy than cutting taxes (31 percent). None of this, of course, is at all compatible with the views of Romney's new running mate.

Romney still has some time to chip away at Obama's overwhelming lead among Hispanics. But time is running out and the Ryan selection is just the latest sign that the Romney campaign lacks a strategy for cutting into that lead.

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