This post first appeared at The Nation.
The Latino electorate was not one to want for a date this election; both presidential candidates laid it on pretty thick. President Obama was hoping to harness and build upon his 2008 support and Mitt Romney hoping to channel George W. Bush. Romney had a lot to make up for coming out of the primaries—like when he suggested undocumented immigrants should be made so “miserable” they would “self-deport”—but could have found a potential opening in Latino frustration at the President’s broken promise of immigration reform.
George W. Bush set the gold standard when it comes to GOP Latino outreach. In 2000 he received 35 percent of the Latino vote and four years later increased that share by close to five percentage points. Kicking off the general campaign season the Romney camp stated that its goal would be to net 38 percentof the Latino vote, a figure higher than Bush’s first term and way beyond McCain’s 2008 share of 31 percent.
Coming into the summer Mitt Romney had a steep climb with Latinos. His support was in the low 20s—but he figured that time was his friend and he would eventually win them over. In theory it wasn’t an impossible task.
Romney targeted Latinos who had become disillusioned with President Obama. His critical pitch was an economic one, highlighting that under the President Latinos fared worst during the recession. Romney also made sure to remind Latinos of President Obama’s broken immigration promise and the record number of deportations carried out by his administration. Meanwhile, the term self-deportation disappeared from Romney’s general campaign vernacular.
On the eve of the conventions, it looked like Romney had gained some traction. In the first of what would be eleven weekly tracking polls, impreMedia and Latino Decisions found that 26 percent of registered Latinos supported Mitt Romney. Following the Republican National Convention support for Romney jumped up to 30 percent among registered Latino voters. If the next nine weeks had followed the same trend, Romney would indeed meet his 38 percent mark.
But by mid-September Romney’s post-convention bump had started to recede. In the third weekly tracking poll his support came down to 29 percent. In the next three weeks he continued to lose support, until by week seven he had hit the low point, with only 20 percent of the Latino electorate’s support. Once his slide began, Romney was never able to regain his footing and has able to only make it back up to 23 percent on the eve of the election.
President Obama’s story is the inverse of Romney’s. The President started out with the support of 65 percent of registered Latino voters in the first weekly tracking poll. However, with the exception of one small dip following the first presidential debate, his support continued to climb reaching the current figure of 73 percent. Over the course of close to two months Mitt Romney saw a decline of seven percentage points among Latinos while the President saw an eight percentage point increase.
Latinos overwhelmingly prefer President Obama and as the tracking polls have shown that preference has only grown in the last several weeks. But more importantly, Latinos have indicated a growing sense ofenthusiasm in turning out to vote. At the beginning of the tracking poll more Latinos indicated that they had been more enthusiastic about the 2008 election. However, by the last tracking poll over half of Latinos indicated that they were more excited about the 2012 election than the 2008 election.
The increase in enthusiasm did not come in one burst and did not result from one single factor. To begin, the Obama campaign had a strong Latino-targeted infrastructure on the ground. They were able to capitalize on their highly effective ground game from 2008. Enthusiasm also grew as the policy differences between both candidates became starker. The debates, together with the home stretch campaigning highlighted the policy prospects for Latinos under each candidate. And finally, the location of Latinos in key swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada gave this electorate a shot of energy as the election drew near.
In the end Latinos doubled down on their support for President Obama. There is no question that Latinos are sore at the President for his lack of immigration overhaul, but at the same time they realize that Mitt Romney’s stance on immigration is one that is restrictive and not in accord with the preferences of the majority of Latinos. On the economic front, Latinos were undeniably the hardest hit, but in terms of getting back on their feet they subscribe to the President’s vision of a progressive government rather than the erasure of government. With close to three-quarters of the Latino electorate indicating that they trust President Obama and the Democrats to make the right decisions to improve our economic conditions the message is clear–Latinos have said adiós to Romney.