Will Obama Have Trouble With Latinos in 2012?

Yesterday, at a meeting with journalists and bloggers at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke about the organization’s efforts as it prepared for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

During the conversation, I asked the chair about Obama’s potential difficulties with Latino voters. Between the failure to shepherd the DREAM Act through Congress, the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, and the unprecedented number of deportations -- in addition to a poor economy which has disproportionately harmed Latinos -- the Hispanic community has good reason to be skeptical of the administration. And while Republicans are likely to embrace even more draconian policies toward Latino immigrants if elected, it’s not enough for the Obama administration to be the least bad option.

“Democratic policy under President Obama has been a plus and a boon for Hispantics, particularly with immigration reform,” said Wasserman Schultz in response to the question. As an example, she offered a recent directive from the administration: “President Obama has directed ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to prioritze deportations to ensure that we’re deporting criminals first."

Given the extent to which this policy – announced in August – comes in a period where the Obama administration averaged more than 390,000 deportations per year, a 30 percent increase over the Bush administration, this probably won’t do much to improve the White House’s relationship with Latino voters.

You can imagine the political problems for the president’s re-election campaign. Since the beginning of this year, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos has declined from a high of 63 percent in January to 53 percent in the most recent Gallup tracking poll. These aren’t bad numbers, but they aren’t great either -- in 2008 Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, to John McCain’s 31 percent.

If the trend continues, and Republicans stay away from their usual hostility to Latino immigrants, Obama’s numbers could dip even further, and without strong support from Hispanics, Obama’s re-election effort becomes that much more difficult.

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