President Obama talks about the deportation of illegal immigrants as he… (Olivier Douliery / Abaca…)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As President Obama prepares to address an influential Latino political organization, a new opinion survey finds that Latino voters in battleground states say they are more enthusiastic about the election this year than they were in 2008.
Voter intensity among Latinos is a closely watched barometer. If minority groups turn out at levels at least as high as four years ago, they could play a decisive role in this year's presidential election. If they don’t, Obama could well lose.
Latinos are the nation's largest minority group, but they register to vote and turn out at lower levels than whites or blacks. By some estimates, only about half of the nations eligible Latinos are registered, and the percentage of those who are signed up has been shrinking.
In national polls, Obama enjoys a lopsided advantage -- better than 2-to-1 -- over Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Latinos. In an appearance Thursday before the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual convention, Romney accused the president of taking Latino voters for granted. Obama is to address the group at midday Friday.
Many Latinos live in states that aren't competitive in the presidential race. Those states are either reliably Democratic (California, New York and Illinois) or Republican (Texas and, probably, Arizona).
Three states where Latinos could hold the balance of power include Florida, the biggest battleground in the country, and the swing states of Colorado and Nevada. There is also a fast-growing Latino population in Virginia, another 2012 battleground.
A new Latino Decisions poll, completed Thursday, shows that Obama continues to hold a very wide lead among Latino voters in those states, as well as Arizona. The opinion survey also found that Obama's recent decision to stop deportation of some young illegal immigrants had boosted Latino enthusiasm for his candidacy. An earlier report from the same pollsters -- the University of Washington's Matt Barreto and Stanford University's Gary Segura -- tracked initial gains from Obama's announcement. As reports of the decision spread over English- and Spanish-language news media, Latino support for the policy shift increased, the poll found.
Perhaps most significantly, when Latino voters in the five states were asked how they felt about voting in this year's presidential election, 60% of the poll respondents described themselves as "very enthusiastic." In addition, 48% said they felt more motivated to vote in 2012 than they did four years ago, while 29% said they had been more enthusiastic back in 2008.
That represents a shift from a poll earlier this year, and a likely boost for Obama. In January, 38% of Latino respondents said they were more enthusiastic about 2012, while 46% said they had been more enthusiastic about the last presidential election.
In the new poll, Romney's best showing among Latinos was in Florida, which has a large, Republican-leaning population of Cuban Americans. Obama's lead among Latino registered voters in Florida was 16 percentage points -- 53% to 37% -- similar to the results of another statewide poll this week from Quinnipiac University, which also found increased enthusiasm among Latinos.
In the other states surveyed, Latino voters favored Obama over Romney in Colorado by 70% to 22%, and in Nevada by 69% to 20%. In Virginia, where they make up just 5% of the electorate, Obama had a 59%-28% lead over Romney among Latino voters.
The margin of error in the state surveys was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The poll was co-sponsored by America’s Voice, a liberal advocacy group.