It has been a very busy week since our last post. The issue of immigration jumped back into the spotlight as the Whitman housekeeper saga unfolded (over days), California’s gubernatorial candidates debated on Spanish-langauge television, the posturing continued over the failed defense appropriations vote (which was more about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Dream Act than it was about the DOD), Rahm Emanuel left the White House (which immigration activists may well cheer), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced yet another immigration bill with a lame-duck session in mind. Whether any of this has (or will have, in the coming weeks) a meaningful effect on Latino voters remains to be seen.
This week, we focus on the economy. Specifically, we introduced two new questions to the tracking poll two weeks back, so today represents our first release on these data. But before we get to that, here’s a roundup of the general trends of the week.
Three data points from this week’s tracking poll may offer good news for Democrats.
- The percent of respondents reporting being “almost certain” to turnout and vote has reached its highest point in the tracking poll, at 72.6%.
- More importantly, congressional vote intention favors Democrats 57.6% to 18.7%, with 23.6% undecided, a surprisingly high number. These numbers represent about a 6% improvement over the last two waves. If undecided voters break proportionately (or stay home), this would yield a total two-party vote of 75.5% Democratic and 24.5% Republican. This would be a significant victory for Democrats but its importance would be substantially muted if turnout were low. The 23.6% undecided represents votes not won or voters not present, and should be a number of some concern to Democratic strategists.
- Finally, Obama’s overall approval among our subjects has risen to 70.8% strongly or somewhat approving of his performance. This represents a 9.4% improvement over the last five waves and is a trend for which the Administration and Democratic candidates may well have use.
The importance of the economy to vote choice has grown in recent weeks. While immigration remains powerfully important and symbolic, general economic concerns and specific concerns about jobs are identified among the top voting issues by about half the Latino electorate.
The particular views of the electorate regarding fault and solutions are also favorable overall to the Democrats.
- When asked whether George W. Bush’s administration, or Obama’s administration, was more to blame for current economic circumstances, 77.2% of the respondents blamed Bush, while only 11.6% hold Obama responsible.
- When asked who is best able to “make the right decisions” to improve the economy, 63.3% said “Obama and Democrats” while only 17% said Republicans.
Though the vast majority of our respondents blame the GOP and George W. Bush for current economic conditions while a large majority places their trust in the Democrats and Obama to lead us out of this crisis (63.3%), one can’t help but notice that this number is somewhat smaller than the percent blaming the GOP in the first place. What accounts for the 14% difference between those blaming the GOP and those trusting the Democrats to fix it?
Economic voters two-party vote choice reflects a bit of this ambivalence. Pure economic voters (those not mentioning immigration at all in their most-important-issue responses) favor the Democrats by a modest 52-25, still a healthy lead for Democrats but weaker than their performance overall and significantly weaker than among immigration voters, who we’ll discuss in a moment, which is why we believe both issues are important to the story here. And if we look at those voters who represent that 14% dropoff between Bush blame and Obama trust on the economy, their vote choice is a very ominous 32.2% Democrat, 29.7% GOP, and a whopping 33% undecided. The Democrats have not sold even those who blame the economic woes on the past administration that they—Obama and his congressional co-partisans—have the solution.
Is Immigration, or the Economy, Holding Back Democrats? Yes (that is, both).
With this new information on the economy and respondent views, we may wonder whether all the attention we’ve given to immigration is misplaced. Moreover, the attempt to pass the Dream Act appears to have had modest impact on party views. Respondents are more likely than before to report that Democrats are actually working to pass legislation (34.9%), which is up almost 10% over the period before that vote. Meanwhile, the GOP brand erosion continues, with only 9.7% of respondents believing the party is seriously working on fixing the immigration system, down 6% in the last three weeks and clearly reflecting the filibuster and its legislative effects.
However, since almost a quarter of all respondents in our poll remain undecided, this suggests to us that Latinos with longer term partisan behavior patterns are withholding their support from—or, at the least, having trouble committing to—their usual partisan preference. This is not uncommon for Republican identified Latinos who are often called upon to reconcile policy hostility from their preferred party, but it is altogether different for the party that usually represents the super-majority choice.
As we reported, two party vote intention favors Democrats in the overall survey, 57.6% Democrat to 18.7% Republican, with 23.6% undecided. But we can identify “immigration voters” just as we identified “economic voters” a moment ago. Immigration voters, those selecting immigration as the most important (or second most important) issue have a slightly lower vote share for Democrats and an almost 5 point higher share of undecideds. We break out immigration voters into two groups—those who think Democrats are working for reform and those who feel that the Party is either ignoring or avoiding the issue, or actively working against it. Among immigration voters, those who see the Democrats working for change offer support that is 20 percentage points higher than the overall sample. By contrast, those who view the party as indifferent or working against change are ten points less supportive than the overall sample. The difference between those who see Democrats acting, and those who see Democrats as not working to solve the problem, is more than 30 percentage points. Of course, the GOP should take no joy in this latter finding, since those immigration voters disappointed with the Democrats still prefer them to the Republicans by more than 26 percentage points, 45% to 18.6%.
One source for those very different numbers is undecided. Undecideds are only 19.4% of the immigration voters positive on Democratic efforts, and over 32% of immigration voters who see the Democrats dodging or blocking. These numbers strongly suggest that there are some votes being left on the table by Democrats who have failed to convince a fair share of Latino voters that they are sincerely trying to change the immigration system.
Of course, we don’t want to overstate the importance of immigration and there is good evidence in this week’s track to suggest that the economy weighs heavily on Democratic fortunes heading into November.
- Full results for Oct 4 release, posted here