Hispanic voters comprise nearly 40% of the electorate in the state of New Mexico, making New Mexico the state where Latino voters have the greatest influence on the election outcomes. Consequently, many have suggested that New Mexico may provide a glimpse into the future of Latino politics nationally. This context makes New Mexico important even in an election year when the state is not included in the list of must watch battleground races.
Today, at a live streamed panel at the University of New Mexico’s main campus, national political analysts, advocates, and community leaders from New Mexico discussed how Latino voters and the immigration issue will shape the presidential and Senate races in this state and beyond. Gabriel Sanchez, Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico and Director of Research for Latino Decisions, analyzed fresh polling of Latino voters in New Mexico from a poll conducted by Latino Decisions for America’s Voice.
In New Mexico and at the national level, Latino and new citizen voters are changing politics. With immigration high on the list of issues these voters want addressed, it’s no surprise that Republican candidates who have embraced hardline positions – including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Senate nominee Heather Wilson — are faring poorly with New Mexico Latinos. By contrast, the embrace of common sense immigration reform by both President Barack Obama and Senate candidate Martin Heinrich have played a key role in Latino support for Democrats in presidential, Senate and House races.
Said Gabriel Sanchez, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico and Director of Research for Latino Decisions: “One of the key findings in this poll was the importance Hispanic voters in New Mexico placed on immigration, with this policy coming in only second to the economy as the most important issue that Latino voters want addressed. We also found that nearly 60% of Latinos in the state of New Mexico know someone who is undocumented, and nearly half know someone who is eligible for the DREAM Act if passed. This to me implies that immigration has become personal to Latinos, which might explain the salience of the policy area among Latino voters.”
Christine Sierra, Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico and Director, Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, said: “Today’s polling is crystal clear: immigration matters to Latino voters here in New Mexico. New Mexico Latinos support a reformed driver’s license bill, favor the President’s deferred action policy and enthusiasm is growing. Policymakers at both the state and national level should take note– when it comes to immigration policy, Latino voters are watching.”
Among the poll’s findings:
New Mexico Latinos Favor Democrats by Wide Margins
▪ In the presidential race, 69% of New Mexico Latinos said they will vote for President Obama, while 24% said they will vote for Romney and 7% are undecided.
▪ In the U.S. Senate race, 57% of New Mexico Latinos said they will vote for Martin Heinrich, while 33% said they will vote for Heather Wilson and 10% are undecided.
▪ In addition, 60% of New Mexico Latinos said they will vote for the Democratic candidate in their U.S. House race, while 20% will vote Republican and 12% are undecided.
Candidates’ Immigration Positions Matter to New Mexico Latinos
▪ 52% of respondents said that immigration was “the most important issue” or “one of the most important issues” in their voting decisions this year.
▪ After hearing about President Obama’s deferred action policy, 46% of respondents said that they were “more enthusiastic” about voting for Obama and 7% said that they were “less enthusiastic.” Meanwhile, after hearing about Mitt Romney’s recent announcement that he would not revoke deferred action for DREAMers whose applications are approved under Obama but would stop approving new applications once he is elected, 8% of respondents said that they were “more enthusiastic” about Romney and 46% of respondents said that they were “less enthusiastic.”
▪ After hearing about Senate candidate Martin Heinrich’s support for the DREAM Act, 47% of Latinos said they were “more enthusiastic” about Heinrich and 8% said they were “less enthusiastic.” After hearing about Heather Wilson’s criticisms of the President’s deferred action policy, 21% of respondents said they were “more enthusiastic” about Wilson and 25% said they were “less enthusiastic.”
Immigration is Not Just a Policy Issue: It’s Personal
▪ 30% of New Mexico Latinos said that immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community that Congress and the President should address, while 47% said the same about the economy, jobs, or unemployment.
▪ 58% of New Mexico Latinos know someone who is undocumented, and 47% know someone who may be eligible for the DREAM Act.
▪ When asked how enthusiastic they are about voting in the election this year,” 64% of respondents said that they were “very enthusiastic” about voting in the upcoming election. In a separate question that asked “would you say you are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012, or that you were more enthusiastic about voting back in 2008?” 59% said that they were “more enthusiastic” about voting in 2012 than they were about voting in 2008.
New Mexico Latino Voters Strongly Support Driver’s License Compromise that Includes Stricter Requirements
▪ When told “when it comes to the driver’s license issue, some people have said undocumented immigrants should not be able to apply for a driver’s license and other people have said the law should be reformed so that undocumented immigrant drivers are required to be licensed, but should be subjected to stricter identity and residency requirements as well as tougher penalties for fraud,” 70% of respondents said that they support the approach that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a license but to be subject to stricter requirements, 21% said that they support an approach where undocumented immigrants are “not able to get a license,” and 7% don’t know.
▪ When told “there is a driver’s license reform proposal being considered here in New Mexico that would subject undocumented immigrant drivers to stricter identity and residency requirements, more frequent renewals, and tougher penalties for fraud,” 63% said that they support this proposal, 27% said that they oppose, and 10% don’t know.
Said Rafael Martinez, DREAM leader and Master’s student in American Studies: “President Reagan got it done in the second term. President Clinton complicated immigration policy further. President Bush regretted not pushing immigration in his second term further. Will Obama take it up the second time around? Dreamers and organizers have pushed and our voices will be heard this election. The stakes for immigrants have never been higher and we won’t stop pushing until we get the security we deserve.”
Patty Kupfer, Managing Director of America’s Voice, said: “While many believe that Latinos in New Mexico are too far removed from the immigrant experience to care about the issue, the poll reveals that nearly 60 percent have a friend, family member or co-worker who is undocumented. That’s not far removed. In fact, more than half of respondents said immigration is either the most or one of the most important issue to them in deciding their vote on November 6.” Kupfer added, “Mitt Romney held onto an extreme anti-immigrant position throughout the primary, advocating the self-deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, and now he has found himself 45 points behind with Latino voters and unable to compete in the state of New Mexico. There is certainly a correlation.”
Lucia Fraire, Field Director of Voter Program at Ole New Mexico, also spoke on the panel.