With five weeks of interviewing complete, we are beginning to see several patterns emerging on several dimensions of importance, even as other measures exhibit a bit of bouncing around, suggesting that the dust hasn’t fully settled on the Latino electorate for this midterm election cycle. In all, stability is the best descriptor for this wave’s results.
There are a couple of bright spots for Democrats in this week’s numbers. Specifically, approval for President Obama has grown significantly over the last three waves. Barack Obama’s overall job approval rating has improved from 61.4% (strongly or somewhat approving) in our Sept 6 release to 68.5% today, representing a significant recovery. Congress’ improvement during the same period is roughly 3%, to 41.4%, suggesting that the results for Obama are more than fluctuations but a genuine improvement of fortunes.
Second, the GOP brand continues to erode among Latino voters, even as the Democratic brand remains about the same. While attitudes have improved only modestly about the Democratic Party (“more excited up about 2.4%), those reporting being “less excited” about the Republicans has climbed about 3.3% in the last few weeks.
A final promising sign is in self-reported enthusiasm for voting, which has climbed from 40.7% who report being “very enthusiastic” about voting on Sep 6, to 46.1% today. At the opposite end, those reporting low or no enthusiasm has dropped to 17.8%, the lowest level we’ve recorded in this track. [ Full results are posted here ]
Apart from Obama’s improving fortunes, these changes are modest, and there are significant caveats remaining. First, there has been very little change in the two-party vote margin (currently Dems +30 points over the GOP), and if any trend is emerging, it is away from both parties and toward “undecided,” a very likely hallmark of abstention this fall. This trend is echoed in the self-reported vote likelihood, where those reporting being “almost certain” to vote has declined from almost 72% two weeks ago to about 67% today. Even as we report greater enthusiasm about voting, the number of voters actually planning to show up to the polls appears to be shrinking.
Immigration is the Key (Yes, We’re Talking Immigration Again!)
The story of this election among Latinos may once again hinge on immigration. We have, in recent weeks, received a bit of political push-back from partisan operatives at the state and national level suggesting that we are missing the boat (as it were) by focusing on immigration. The story goes that immigration voters are a small share of the Latino electorate and unlikely to turn out in any event. The political calculation, then, to set aside immigration for the moment and focus elsewhere is a vote-getter, not a vote-loser, for Democrats. Our data have not been consistent with that story.
Last week, it was announced by the Senate Majority Leader (facing a close reelection race in Nevada) that he would bring the Dream Act to the Senate floor as part of the Defense Appropriations Bill. The Dream Act would provide for the adjustment of immigration status for undocumented persons who entered the country at least five years ago as minors at their parents’ behest, and who finish two years of college or military service. It would be a small but important step toward a more equitable resolution of the immigration issue, and could do a great deal, according to the data, to improve Democratic prospects through Latino turnout.
As always, we look first to the data. In this week’s track, we see that the share of the electorate identifying immigration as one of two “most important issues” has risen to 29.5%, an increase of 5.6% from just two weeks ago. Similarly, Barack Obama’s approval on the handling of immigration reform has improved as well, with those “somewhat or strongly approving” up 5.1% since our Sep. 6 release. Beliefs regarding whether the Democrats are serious about acting on immigration remain mixed at best, however. (NOTE: Only 3 of 14 nights of interviewing for this wave occurred after Reid’s Dream Act announcement).
So, what can we make of claims that action on immigration is unimportant because “immigration voters” are not what is critical to Latino turnout and vote-share? We separated “immigration voters,” those choosing immigration as one of their most important issues, from other issue voters to see what we could tell about those Latino registered voters who cared about immigration. Again, about 30% of the sample can be defined as “immigration voters.”
Three things are immediately apparent from the data we collect here. First, “immigration voters” are more reliably Democratic voters. They are more than 10 points happier with Barack Obama than other voters, and eight percentage points more disenchanted with the Republicans. Most importantly, those identifying immigration as their issue are almost 20 percentage points more likely to report a Democratic preference in the fall election. That is, immigration voters are exactly the ones Democrats want and need in the polling booths on Election Day.
(Click image above to see full graph)
Second, these voters are impatient for action on immigration—they want to see something before the election. Over 70% say it is very or extremely important for immigration reform to be enacted before the November midterms. Now, logically, we’d want to speculate about the consequences if nothing is enacted or, worse, nothing even attempted. We suspect that officials in the Obama Administration, Democratic Congressional Leadership, and Harry Reid’s reelection team don’t want to find out about those consequences.
Finally, the Democrats have not closed the deal with these voters. When we look at issue-specific approval of Obama on the immigration, beliefs about whether the Democrats are avoiding the issue, or enthusiasm about turning out this fall, those we identify as “immigration voters” are not statistically distinct from all other voters. Their views of the president on this issue, their concern that Democrats are dodging the issue, and their energy to go to the polls is no different from those who don’t rank the immigration issue at the top of their agenda.
In summary, we have an interested, energized, and exceedingly Democratic segment of the electorate watching this issue, waiting for action, and with flagging enthusiasm to get out and support the Democrats. But, in fairness, the end of this story is yet to be written. The Dream Act, long presumed dead, comes to a vote this week. Win or lose, perceptions of inaction by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are certain to fade. Outspoken support from the administration and Democratic leaders (as well as the likely uniform opposition and denunciation from the opposing party) should raise the enthusiasm and energy among this segment of the Latino electorate.