Latino Voters: Obama Leads Going Into 2012, GOP Faces Backlash On Immigration

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama still holds significant leads among likely Latino voters over Republican candidates for the 2012 election, partially because most Latinos don't know or don't like the GOP field, according to a Univision-Latino Decisions poll released Tuesday.

The Republican candidates have little name recognition among Latino voters, with a majority of those voters saying they had never heard of frontrunner Herman Cain. (Granted, this poll was taken between Oct. 21 and Nov. 1 -- and the first story reporting sexual harassment claims against Cain came out Oct. 31.)

Rick Perry has the highest name recognition but also the highest negative ratings, despite being hammered for some pro-immigrant policies that he pursued as governor of Texas. The poll found that about 43 percent of likely Latino voters hold unfavorable opinions of Perry.

There had been some speculation that Perry's support of a law that allowed undocumented young people to attend Texas state colleges at in-state tuition rates, provided they had completed three years of high school in the United States, could help him attract more Latino voters than other GOP candidates. But the poll results debunked that theory.

"I know for a while there was this interesting little meme going around about 'Rick Perry might appeal to Latinos,' but no, I don't think that's the case," said Gary Segura of Latino Decisions.

The poll held good news for Obama, particularly after reports that many Latinos and immigration advocates have soured on the president. Latino voters were asked to choose between Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Obama or Cain, and Obama or Perry. In all three instances, at least 65 percent said they would support Obama over the Republican challenger.

The Latinos polled have far more enthusiasm for Obama -- 38 percent said they viewed him very favorably -- than for Republican candidates. But that enthusiasm has dropped since 2008, when Obama was swept into office with 67 percent of the Latino vote.

Although the next election is still a year away, Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions said that the lack of enthusiasm could result in fewer Latinos showing up to vote in 2012. "[Obama] has a lead among people that are sitting on their couch," he said. "But the question is going to be to what degree those people turn out and vote. ... Among Latinos, they're reporting that they were much more likely to be enthusiastic about voting in '08 as compared to '12."

One possible key to winning more Latino support is voter outreach, which so far has been limited on both sides. Obama has made a larger effort, giving pro-immigration reform speeches, rolling out a new deportation policy to protect some undocumented immigrants, and appearing in areas with large Latino populations. Still, 32 percent of those polled said Democrats do not seem to care much about Latino voters.

"That was the bad news for the Democrats. A lot of Latinos kind of think that the Democrats take them for granted," Segura said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are seen by about 30 percent of Latinos as "outright hostile" to them, according to the poll. Every Republican presidential candidate has called for stricter border enforcement, with all but one saying the government should build a fence along the nation's southern border. Some have taken it a step further. Last month Cain was driven to apologize for earlier remarks saying the fence should be electrified, with a sign facing Mexico that read, "It will kill you."

Sixty-six percent of Latinos said that Republicans are trying to block immigration reform by insisting it must wait until the border is secured.

All Republican candidates have criticized undocumented immigration and oppose reforms that would provide legal status to some unauthorized immigrants. Though not necessarily their most important issue, 67 percent of Latino voters support this type of reform, including 64 percent of Latino Republicans. More than 60 percent of Latino voters said they "strongly support" the DREAM Act, a bill to provide legal status to some undocumented young people who entered the United States as children. All the GOP presidential candidates oppose the bill.

Fifty-nine percent of Latino voters said they would be less likely to support a Republican candidate who declared there could be no "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, even if they believed the candidate held better views on the economy.

View the full poll results here.

CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to reflect that 38 percent of Latinos polled hold very favorable, not just favorable, opinions of President Obama. Also, 43 percent, not 22 percent, of Latinos hold unfavorable opinions of Rick Perry.