President Obama’s trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday came as Hispanic voters emerge as a crucial voting bloc in his 2012 reelection bid.
Hispanics were in love with Obama when he was elected — even more than other demographics — but they moved towards Republicans a little in 2010. They’ve also shown a willingness to vote for the right kind of Republican, as George W. Bush was able to take 45 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
They will be very important to Obama for two reasons.
One: They don’t view him nearly as favorably as they used to.
And two: They are entirely willing to stay home.
A month before the 2010 election, 63 percent of Hispanic registered voters approved of the president, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey.
Still, they weren’t motivated, and their turnout dropped more than a lot of demographics, largely because the Hispanic voting bloc is so young. They wound up voting just 60 percent for Democratic candidates — down from 67 percent for Obama in 2008 — and their turnout dropped well below other major demographic groups.
More recent Gallup polling shows Obama’s Hispanic approval dropping as low as 47 percent, but staying mostly in the mid-50s. That’s still better than other demographics, but Obama is hardly in the same position with Hispanics as he was when he won in 2008.
Obama got a larger-than-expected boost from Hispanic voters in 2008 in four states in particular: Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, including becoming the first Democrat since at least 1988 to get a majority of Hispanic votes in Florida.
It’s no coincidence that those states happen to be among the fastest-growing Hispanic consituencies in the country. The fact that Obama earned bigger-than-expected margins in them can be tied directly to his performance among Hispanics.
Given that those swing states have only added Hispanic population over the last four years, Obama’s team has to be looking at them as key to his reelection.
The Hispanic vote increased by 30 percent between the 2004 presidential race and the 2008 race — largely thanks to enthusiasm for Obama. If Obama can conjure up the same kind of excitement this time — or anything close to it, really — that’s going to help him in some key swing states and be a big help going forward.
The good news for Obama is that Republicans have made very little effort to woo Hispanic votes, which means the demographic is there for the taking.