Did Dems miss an opportunity for Latino mobilization?

On June 30, 2014 president Obama announced that if Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform that he would implement an administrative order providing temporary legal status to millions of undocumented by the end of summer and before the November 2014 election. As late as August 28, 2014 White House officials suggested to the media that Obama would announce his executive action around Labor Day in early September. Now that Obama has officially said he is delaying any executive action until after the midterm election, many are wondering what the impact will be on Latino enthusiasm come November 4th.

Latino Decisions recently asked Latino voters these exact questions. The poll results indicate a lack of action by Obama on immigration policy will result in a majority of Latino registered voters feeling less enthusiastic about turning out to vote in the midterm election. A majority also report they would be less enthusiastic about supporting the Democratic Party in November. Our June 2014 poll with the Center for American Progress asked Latino registered voters the following two questions:

The President can adopt many changes to immigration policy by himself as the head of the executive branch of government. If President Obama decides NOT to sign any executive orders, and makes no changes in immigration policy, would that make you feel more enthusiastic or less enthusiastic about… { supporting Democrats in the November 2014 election? / turning out to vote in November 2014? }

Overall, 57% of Latinos said failure to act would leave them less enthusiastic about voting Democrat, and likewise 54% said they would be less excited about turnout to vote at all.

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In contrast, when posed with a scenario in which President Obama did enact executive orders on immigration policy before the November election, 87% of Latino voters said that would make them MORE enthusiastic about casting a ballot for Democrats in the 2014 midterm.  That’s a huge shift from +87 to -57.  There is no doubt that Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate and the House will still win an overwhelming majority of Latino votes this November.  Republicans have done nothing to improve their standing with Latino voters since losing 75% of the Latino vote in 2012.  However the important question is how many Latino voters will be motivated to cast a ballot in November.

It’s difficult to forecast high levels of turnout when approval ratings of Congress are near an all-time low. Neither party in Congress has majority approval from Latino voters on handling immigration reform.  While just 25% approve of Republicans on immigration (versus 68% disapprove), Democrats receive just 49% support from Latinos on immigration (versus 43% who disapprove).  When asked about President Obama’s policy of “prosecutorial discretion” which was supposed to target only known criminals for deportation, only 17% of Latino voters think immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) is doing a better job at deportations, while 71% believe they are still deporting immigrants with no criminal record under Obama’s 2011 directive.

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For Latino voters, immigration policy is often a personal and symbolic issue.  In our June 2014 poll we found 62% of Latino registered voters personally knew an undocumented immigrant, including 30% of Latino voters who said they have a family member who is undocumented (and the additional 32% saying it was a friend).  What’s more, one-third of Latino voters reported that know a person or family who has faced detention or deportation for immigration reasons.  There is no doubt that this issue is incredibly salient and personal to many Latino voters, and the extensive discussion – including from sources inside the White House – that executive action on immigration policy was imminent raised expectations for relief from deportation and legal status.  Now that the President has put off the decision to take action, polling data from Latino Decisions suggests Latino voter enthusiasm will be much lower in November 2014, than if the President had acted now.


Matt Barreto is co-founder and principal at Latino Decisions, Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, and adjunct professor at the University of Washington School of Law. Gary Segura is co-founder and principal of Latino Decisions, Professor of American Politics at Stanford University, and Chair of Chicana/o Studies. Barreto and Segura’s latest book, Latino America: How America’s Most Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation, draws from years of Latino Decisions research and is set for publication next month.

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