Although only 55 percent of eligible Hispanics are registered to vote, about 70 percent of those registered consistently turn out. This November, the Latino vote will be pivotal in several battleground states, such as Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Virginia.
Latinos are social conservatives who should lean Republican.
Although Latinos are more conservative than many other groups in their views on same-sex marriage and abortion, these issues do not predict their party affiliation. Nationally, Latinos prefer the Democratic Party by more than three to one, according to the Pew Research Center. The Democratic edge is even higher in states such as New York and New Jersey.
And there are variations among Hispanic groups. Puerto Ricans are more likely to be Democrats than Mexican Americans, for example. Cuban Americans are the only group of Hispanic origin to prefer the Republican Party, though that attachment is declining. For example, in South Florida's Miami-Cuban American Republicans are also more likely to say they are "pro-choice" and are more supportive of government-provided health care than Mexican-American Democrats.
Latinos favor government services and therefore are reliably Democratic.
Latinos have historically cast most of their votes for Democratic candidates, but that has fluctuated depending on various factors, including candidates' outreach to Hispanics and their policy positions. So even if Latinos support increasing government services, which they do, that does not automatically make them Democrats. For example, the share of Latinos voting for Democratic presidential candidates has ranged from a high of 85 percent in 1960 to a low of 56 percent in 1980.
Four years ago, 67 percent of Latino voters supported Barack Obama, but it is not at all certain that he will keep that level of support this time. Tracking polls by ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions show that their enthusiasm for the president dropped precipitously in 2010 and 2011, when the administration didn't deliver on its promises of immigration reform and when deportations of illegal immigrants spiked.
Latino voters care most about immigration.
Recent tracking polls of Latino voters show that they are most concerned about job creation and the economy. Immigration ranks second, followed closely by education and health care.
That is not to say Latino voters are unconcerned about the continuing prosecution and deportation of undocumented immigrants; you cannot separate the concerns of Latino citizens from those of illegal immigrants. Many families include legal citizens and undocumented aliens, and according to a 2011 ImpreMedia-Latino Decisions poll, 53 percent of registered Latino voters know someone who is here and undocumented.
Latino voters are swayed by Latino candidates.
Many assume that Latinos are more likely to vote for Latinos, or even just Spanish speakers. But this is true only if their issue positions are congruent with Latino voters'. Indeed, substantive positions matter more than surnames or skin color.
In New Mexico's 2010 gubernatorial election, for example, Democrat Diane Denish received 61 percent of the Latino vote, while Republican Susana Martinez, with her tough stance on immigration and border control, got only 38 percent. (Martinez still won.)
And though Republican Marco Rubio won a majority of the Latino vote in his Florida Senate race that year, this was largely because of support from his own Cuban American community. Among non-Cuban Latinos, Rubio won only 40 percent of the vote.
Martinez-Ebers is a professor of political science at the University of North Texas. She wrote this for the Washington Post.