(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama's recent decision to not deport certain undocumented immigrants has been widely viewed as helping his re-election bid by courting Latino voters. However, his decision may actually do more harm than good in his chances of getting re-elected.
Latinos, now the largest minority group in the United States, represent a growing and important voting bloc. A December 2011 poll by Pew Hispanic Center showed a majority, 59 percent, of Latinos disapproved of the increased number of deportations under Obama. Latinos also strongly support the DREAM Act, which would essentially put into law what Obama's executive decision did on Friday: Latinos who entered the country as minors, have no criminal record and graduated from high school or served in the military will not be deported.
Some pundits, therefore, have reasoned that Obama's immigration decision will help him mobilize Latino voters and win re-election.
However, Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, takes a different view.
"Setting aside the actual merits of the policy – and we can't pretend that a decision announced in June of an election year was made solely on the merits of the policy – I think the decision will probably wind up a net negative for the president," Trende wrote Tuesday.
There are three reasons Trende believes that Obama's immigration decision will do more to harm than help his re-election chances.
First, Latinos do not comprise a significant voting bloc in the key swing states that Obama needs to win re-election. The only swing states where more than 10 percent of the population is Latino are Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
Florida is the largest swing state, but the Latino population there is different than the rest of the country. Florida Latinos are mostly Cuban or Puerto Rican. Since Cuban immigrants became citizens because they were refugees from the Castro regime, and Puerto Ricans are citizens because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, these Latinos do not demonstrate the same positions about undocumented immigrants as other Latinos.
This would leave Colorado and Nevada, Trende reasons, as the only swing states where Obama's immigration decision could help him win the state. Combined, these two states would only net 15 electoral college votes for Obama.
Second, Obama's immigration decision could hurt him in some other key swing states where the population is less supportive of policies deemed to be similar to "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. Trende pays particular attention to white working class voters that helped Obama win in 2008. These voters are a key voting bloc in Midwest states that Obama needs the support of in order to win re-election, such as Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
And third, Trende points out that Latinos are not monolithic when it comes to views on immigration. In 2008, 69 percent of Latinos said that immigration was a "very" or "extremely" important issue to them, but one-third of them voted Republican. This suggests that a significant minority of Latinos might be less inclined to support Obama after his immigration decision.
New York Times political blogger Nate Silver mostly disagrees, though, with Trende's conclusion. Likely voters, Silver points out, mostly favor Obama's decision.
Silver does agree, though, with one of Trende's main points – that Latinos do not comprise a significant voting bloc in key swing states.
According to Silver's calculations, there is a better than 50/50 chance that the outcome of the presidential race will be decided by either Virginia or Ohio. In both of those states, the Latino share of voter turnout was small in 2008 (5.3 percent in Virginia and 3.5 percent in Ohio).
How Obama's immigration decision will impact the outcome of the presidential race could depend in part, though, on how it influences his opponent, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Romney opposed the DREAM Act during the Republican primaries. Many Republicans, though, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, have voiced concerns about Republican outreach to Latino voters and would like to see Romney take a softer stance on immigration reform. Thus far, Romney's criticism of Obama's decision has been about process – Obama's policy is a short-term fix and a long-term solution is needed, Romney argued. Romney has yet to put forward, however, what his long term fix would be.