The past few days have seen a strong push for Latino voters by the Obama campaign. In New York it released an ad with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz championing "someone that really cares about the Latin community." In California the president dedicated a monument to Cesar Chavez (whose "Si, se puede" call inspired Obama's "Yes, we can"). In battleground states Obama speaks Spanish in an ad targeting immigrant voters.
The rising impact of the Latino vote is well-documented. Earlier this month the Pew Hispanic Center reported [PDF] that a record 23.7 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in the 2012 election — representing roughly 11 percent of the country's electorate. Pew also presented a map that parcels out the Latino vote:
Obama is doing well with the Latino vote in a general sense. One recent poll says he holds a 70-26 advantage with the group, which would be even higher than the 67-31 split he held in 2008. A political analysis from this summer found that Obama can win reelection with just 40 percent of the white vote so long as he holds 80 percent of the minority vote.
Of course the electoral college operates separately from the popular poll. The Pew study shows that only 17 percent of eligible Latino voters reside in presumptive battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Of these, Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the electorate in just three: Florida (15.9 percent), Nevada (15.1), and Colorado (13.7).
Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is the big prize here. It's also a bit of a wild card. The state is home to four of the top 25 Latino-populated metro areas in the country: Miami (7), Orlando (18), Tampa (22), and Ft. Lauderdale (23). More Hispanics in Florida are registered as Democrats than Republican right now, 38 to 30 percent, but as recently as 2006 that balance was reversed. AGuardian profile of Poinciana, just outside Orlando, reminds us that although Obama carried the district in 2008, George Bush did in 2004.
The latest polls suggest Obama is widening that edge. The nonpartisan Latino Decisions recently showed Obama leading Romney 61-31 among Hispanic voters — double the 15-point margin he scored in 2008.
Polls find an even bigger gap for Obama in Nevada, home to the 16th biggest Latino metro in the country: Las Vegas. The president leads his opponent 78-17 in the state right now. A Latino Decisions writer admits that advantage is somewhat strange, considering that Nevada "continues to lead the country in unemployment and bankruptcies, and is not far behind in foreclosures." Arecent Reuters profile of potential Latino voters in Nevada suggests that Hispanics simply don't trust Romney to help them. Here's Las Vegas resident Luisa Garay:
Like Romney, the Garays are Mormons, as is about 7 percent of the Nevada electorate. And while most Mormons vote Republican, the Garays support Obama. "Romney seems to think we are lazy," Garay said. "But when I lost my job, I worked seven days a week to make ends meet - cleaning offices, tutoring, caring for disabled kids."
Latino Decisions is expected to release a poll from Colorado soon. The state is home to 484,000 eligible Hispanic voters, ninth-most in the country, and the 15th-largest Latino metro area: Denver. Colorado is one of the five states where "Buen Ejemplo," the ad with Obama addressing immigrants in Spanish, is currently airing. (Florida and Nevada are two others, along with Ohio and Virginia.) Pundits believe the race for the state will be a tight one.
The major question raised by the Pew report is whether eligible Latinos will actually get out and cast their votes. In recent elections the demographic group has hovered around the 50-percent turnout rate. Only 9.7 million of 19.5 million eligible Hispanics voted in 2008, for instance, far below the roughly two-thirds participation rate of eligible whites and blacks.
Eric Jaffe is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America. He lives in New York.