New poll suggests Latino voters may make the difference in four key states

A significant percentage of Latino voters in key election states – Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada – are either undecided or still open to persuasion in the presidential contest, according to a new national survey.

“The Latino vote will be critical in the Southwest and Florida, and results of this poll show very clearly that Latinos may well provide Sen. Barack Obama with the margin of victory,” said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington professor of political science who is a co-partner on the research.

The survey, conducted between Aug. 18 and Sept. 10 also showed that an unprecedented number of Latinos may vote – nearly 90 percent in those states. Given the growing Latino electorate in states like Nevada, where 59,489 Latino voters have registered since 2004, a high Latino turnout could determine outcome of the national election, Barreto said.

Respondents also said the economy is their top priority. Nearly a third said they had trouble making mortgage or rent payments during the past year. In 2004, all four Latino battleground states voted Republican. However in 2008, those states are leaning slightly toward Obama, a Democrat, according to poll averages collected by Real Clear Politics.

In large part, this leaning may be due to strong support for Obama among Latinos, Barreto said. In Colorado, Obama received 71 percent support from Latinos compared to 18 percent for McCain. In Nevada, Obama was favored 67 percent to 20 percent, and in New Mexico, 67 percent to 23 percent. In Florida, where Latinos have traditionally voted Republican, McCain drew 45 percent of the vote compared with 43 percent for Obama.

Added together, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada hold 19 electoral college votes, and if only these three states change from a Republican majority to a Democratic one in 2008, Obama will receive 271 electoral college votes – and garner the presidency, Barreto said.

“As the electoral map takes shape, it’s increasingly clear the Latino vote may be decisive,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which helped pay for the survey. “In key battleground states,” he added, “Latino voters are ready to vote in huge numbers, and a significant percentage is still persuadable. Underestimating the Latino vote could be disastrous for either party.”

Latino Decisions, a public opinion firm whose partners include Barreto, Stanford University political scientist Gary Segura and Pacific Market Research, telephoned 1,600 Latino registered voters drawn equally from official statewide files in the four states. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.7 percent for each state.

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