Immigrant communities played a decisive role in determining the 2012 presidential election, as President Obama trounced Mitt Romney among Hispanics, Latinos and Asian voters.
Clearly, Obama’s more progressive policies on comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act and dealing with the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants resonated with Hispanic voters. Conversely, Romney was forced to take harsh positions on those issues during the Republican primaries, and that cost him dearly on election day.
The influence of the Tea Party in pulling Republican candidates to the right on immigration took a heavy toll when immigrant communities turned out to vote.
Republicans lost the battle of the census. They failed to address the demographic shift that is occurring in the United States and failed to quash perceptions they were anti-immigrant. The U.S. Census Bureau released a study in May 2012 that showed that, for the first time in the nation’s history, minorities (non-whites) made up more than half the country’s new infants.
An estimated 12.5 million Hispanics voted in 2012, about 1.8 million more than in 2008. More than 71% of those voted for Obama, more than accounting for his 3.5 million vote margin of victory over Romney. Hispanics were the difference.
Romney actually did worse among the fast-growing Asian demographic group with only 26% of the vote, 7 points below what John McCain pulled in four years ago. Romney fell 4 points below McCain’s Hispanic total.
Republicans had no illusions about winning the Hispanic vote but they thought they could cut in to Obama’s advantage. It did not happen. Consider that George W. Bush got 40% of the Hispanic vote when he won reelection in 2004.
Obama’s Hispanic advantage was especially apparent in the battleground states, of which he won all but North Carolina. According to an ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions poll, Obama’s advantage over Romney among Hispanics was 58% to 40% in Florida, 87% to 10% in Colorado, 80% to 17% in Nevada and 66% to 31% in Virginia.
Democrats worked overtime to register immigrant voters. In Florida alone, they added about 300,000 Hispanics to the voting rolls over 2008.
There was also a historic reversal of the Cuban-American community, which has been staunchly Republican since President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco.
President Obama won 48% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida, according to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International, a record for a Democrat, after getting 35% in 2008. John Kerry got only 29% in 2004 and Al Gore just 25% in 2000.
Romney still captured the Cuban-American vote with 52%, but his poor performance again suggested a demographic shift: the Cuban-American population is aging, and third- and fourth-generation voters aren’t moved to support Republicans because of Cold War politics anymore.
During the primaries, Romney offered self-deportation as a solution for the country’s population of illegal residents. He opposed the DREAM Act, except in exchange for military service. He also supported states such as Arizona and Alabama that passed hardline immigration laws.
None of these positions was popular with immigrant voters. Obama countered with a DREAM Act alternative, a “deferred action” executive order that allows many undocumented children to work and study in the country without fear of deportation. The Obama administration’s Justice Department also vigorously challenged state immigration laws in the courts.
The president made it clear he didn’t believe in self-deportation and that he would push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship for illegal residents. Republicans, at the insistence of the Tea Party, staunchly oppose that.
Obama also relaxed deportation enforcement during the months leading up to the election and loosened some of the rules governing families with undocumented relatives.
When election day came, it was an each choice for Hispanic voters.