Amid angst over illegal immigration, President Barack Obama is losing support among Hispanic voters, complicating his re-election chances in Florida, a new Quinnipiac Poll shows.
Obama carried the Sunshine State in 2008 with the help of Hispanics, but that support is softening here and elsewhere.
A national Quinnipiac poll conducted Nov. 14-20 shows the president's approval/disapproval rating among Hispanics has dropped to 56-43. Obama won 67 percent of the U.S. Latino vote in 2008.
In Florida, other polls have shown Obama's Hispanic support as high as 82 percent in 2009, and as low as 49 percent recently. He won 57 percent of the state's Latino vote against John McCain in 2008. (Quinnipiac did not break out Florida-specific results in its national survey of 2,552 registered voters.)
"The mainstream punditry has long treated as a fait accompli that the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election is safely in Obama's corner and will, as in 2008, likely tip the balance in swing states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, perhaps even Florida. But this looks extremely doubtful," says Stephen Steinlight, an analyst with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.
"Obama is an enormous disappointment to Hispanics to whom he promised passage of 'comprehensive immigration reform' but couldn't even deliver the DREAM Act. Nor are all Hispanics buying the rationale that this failure is wholly attributable to Republican obstructionism," Steinlight explained.
Mario Lopez, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Hispanic Leadership Fund, agrees with Steinlight ... up to a point.
"Obama has run opposite of what he said he would do [on immigration]. There have been record numbers of deportations on his watch," Lopez said.
"But that won't automatically translate into Republican support," he cautioned.
As with the general electorate, Hispanics, whose unemployment rate runs 2 points above the national average, are concerned about the economy -- and blame is rubbing off on the White House.
The Quinnipiac poll showed 74 percent of Hispanics are "somewhat dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the direction the country is going in today. Fifty-three percent of Hispanic voters said they held an "unfavorable" view of the Democratic Party.
Yet national Republicans fared just as poorly, and few conservatives are counting on a big Hispanic shift in their direction.
"At the end of the day, the majority of the Hispanics will gather in Obama's corner -- not because of what he has or hasn't done, but because the vast majority of them fall in the demographic group 'the working poor,'" said Jack Oliver, of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement.
"Hispanics are no different than the working poor whites or blacks -- they depend on government assistance to subsidize their income, and the Democrats offer their best chance for these programs being sustained and expanded."
Indeed, Democrats claim that their 2009 economic stimulus bill kept 1.9 million Hispanics out of poverty.
Pointing to the ongoing influx of Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, Lopez said Obama's well-oiled re-election machine will pick up Latino votes along the I-4 corridor to counterbalance more Republican-oriented Cubans in South Florida.
Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist, wrote recently, "If the voting-age Puerto Rican population grows at a pace that is even close to what we saw in the last decade, the next 10 years could bring another 300,000 eligible Puerto Rican voters to Florida."
Oliver predicted, "If a couple more large states follow California's demographic trend, Republicans won't have the electoral votes to put their guy in the White House. Texas and Florida are heading in that direction now."
Still, Schale cautioned that there is "a significant delta between the percentage of Hispanics living in Florida -- 22.5 percent -- and the Hispanic share of the Florida electorate, 12-14 percent."
Schale also noted that naturalizations are occurring at a much slower pace than population growth.
"So though the share of non-Cuban Hispanics becoming citizens is growing, the raw numbers arent that overwhelming, and at least in the short term, arent alone likely to have a significant impact on the electorate," he said.
Short term, conservatives believe that a Republican who takes a hard line on immigration could be successful against Obama in Florida. McCain soft-pedaled the issue, and GOP turnout slumped. Obama won the state by 204,577 votes -- a margin of 2.5 percent.
"Poll after poll has demonstrated that the public understands the illegal immigration issue and want officials to enforce existing laws and enact new laws to address the problem. Rick Scott made this the cornerstone of his campaign and sits in the governor's mansion today because he connected with the voters on this issue," Oliver said.
"Other examples are [Reps.] Allen West and Sandy Adams," he added.
Assessing the Republican presidential field, Lopez said, "Newt Gingrich showed a lot of courage in rightfully pointing out some of the problems with adopting a purely punitive approach to immigration."
But Lopez, whose group endorsed McCain in 2008, expressed frustration with another GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney.
"He has a tin ear on how broken the immigration process is," Lopez said, noting that the former Massachusetts governor now decries amnesty initiatives he supported in the past.
"The economy is in the tank, and Obama's policies have made it worse. But the Republicans have failed to say anything productive [to Hispanics]," Lopez concluded.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.