Senior political analyst
"This election could well be determined by Latino voters,’’ Barack Obama told the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) on July 8. That’s why Obama and John McCain both showed up, three weeks in a row this summer, to speak to Latino political organizations.
How did Latino voters get so much clout? Latinos are 15 percent of the population. But they were only eight percent of the voters in 2004. Nearly half the nation's Latinos live in California or Texas. Neither is a battleground state. Moreover, since 1972, Republican candidates have averaged only about one third of the Latino vote. So why are Latino voters so hotly contested this time?
Because of four battleground states. Obama told LULAC, "Every four years, some of the closest contests take place in Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico - states with large Latino communities."
O.K., so who’s winning the Latino vote?
A new poll from the Pew Hispanic Center shows Obama with a huge lead, 66 to 23 percent, among Latino voters nationwide. Does McCain have a problem with Latinos? In his LULAC speech, the presumptive Republican nominee said the United States "would be the poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from other countries in our hemisphere.’’ McCain added, "I will honor their contributions to America for as long as I live.’’
Latinos have a mixed opinion of McCain – 44 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable. Their big problem is with President Bush. In 2004, Bush carried about 40 percent of the Latino vote – a record high for a Republican presidential candidate. Bush’s favorability rating with Latinos is now down to 27 percent.
And Obama? 76 percent favorable. Which makes him a little more popular than Hillary Clinton (73 percent). In the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton trounced Obama among Latino voters (61 to 35 percent in the combined exit polls for all the Democratic primaries). Is Obama having problems winning over Clinton’s Latino supporters? Apparently not. The Pew poll shows Obama doing better with Latinos who voted for Clinton in the primaries than with whites who voted for Clinton.
McCain has made a determined effort to reach out to Latinos on the immigration issue. He told LULAC, "I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.’’ Which candidate do Latinos believe would be better for immigrants? Fifty percent said Obama, twelve percent McCain. About a third of Latinos rated Obama and McCain the same on immigration.
There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Latinos will vote for an African-American candidate. We have the answer: they will. In fact, 32 percent of Latinos say the fact that Obama is black will help him with Latino voters. Only 11 percent believe it will hurt him.
The big factor among Latinos is political party. Increasing numbers call themselves Democrats. In the Pew poll, Latino Democrats outnumber Latino Republicans by nearly 40 points (65 to 26 percent). When asked which party is better for Hispanics, Democrats lead Republicans by ten to one (55 to 5 percent).
Which means that, whatever McCain does to cultivate Latino support, he appears to be doomed by the "R’’ next to his name on the ballot. And whatever qualms Latinos had about Obama in the primaries, he is saved by the "D’’ after his name.
For more on this story check out the latest numbers here
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with