New Latino Decisions polling data from March 2010 finds that Latino registered voters are very supportive of health care reform, however large majorities also say it is very important for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform before November 2010. Overall, when asked what the single most important issue facing the nation was, health care reform topped the list (32%), followed by jobs/economy (29%), and then immigration reform (17%). The poll of 500 Latinos, which was fielded in early March, just before the health care vote, found Latino registered voters remained very strong supporters of health care reform. In November 2009, a Latino Decisions survey found 85% of Latinos said it was important for Congress to pass health care reform before November 2010. In March 2010, 84% of Latinos agreed it was important to pass health care reform.
So on the one hand, passage of the historic health care bill draws great support from Latino voters, however much work remains to be done to impress Latinos. On March 5, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the Latino unemployment rate at 12.4%, higher than the national average of 9.7%. While jobs and health care are obviously top priorities, immigration reform continues to loom as an important issue throughout the Latino community. In part, the salience of immigration reform is driven by earlier promises by Barack Obama in the Fall of 2008, and again in the Spring of 2009. Even in June 2009 Obama reiterated his commitment to immigration reform. Thus, it is no surprise that Latino Decisions surveys have consistently found that well over 75% of Latino registered voters state it is important for the Congress and President to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the 2010 midterm election.
Simple demographics tell part of the story. Among Latino registered voters, 45% are foreign-born naturalized citizens, and 30% are U.S. born, but have immigrant parents, and 11% are U.S. born and has immigrant grandparents. The immigrant experience is closely woven into the Latino electorate, and Latino voters have been generally supportive of immigrant rights. Most recently, support for immigrant rights has been rekindled among Latino voters in response to the conservative H.R. 4437 in December 2005. Since 2006, polling data has demonstrated very strong support for comprehensive immigration reform among Latino voters, which continues in 2010 with more than 80% of Latinos favoring a reform bill.
However Democrats have been slow to act on an immigration reform bill, after the great efforts in 2006 and 2007. In November 2009, a Latino Decisions poll asked whether the lack of action on immigration reform was understandable given all the other issues on the agenda, or going back on a campaign promise? In November, just 40% of Latino voters said the lack of an immigration bill was understandable. Now that health reform has been passed and signed into law, it is quite likely that supporters of immigrant rights will expect their issue to have its day.
And it is the Democratic Party which has the most to lose if the Latino electorate is not enthusiastic heading into November. Democrats enjoyed very high support from Latinos in 2006 and 2008, and in 2010 the same level of support has not surfaced. In April 2006, a Latino Policy Coalition poll found 61% of Latinos intended to vote Democrat in advance of the 2006 election. In March 2010, the Latino Decisions poll found just 49% of Latinos were ready to vote Democrat. Even with all the issues facing the nation, an overwhelming majority of Latino voters continue to strongly support, and expect Congress to act on immigration reform sometime during 2010.