As Democrats struggle to fend of losses in next month's midterm elections, a new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center delivers a good-news, bad-news message from a key voting bloc. Latinos continue to overwhelmingly support Democrats, but they appear less motivated than the overall electorate to actually turn out and vote.
In 2008, Hispanics' 2-to-1 support for Barack Obama's presidential bid was credited with making the difference in four crucial swing states: Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
This year, analysts say Latinos could be key in dozens of congressional races. The Pew survey finds 65 percent favor the Democratic candidate in their local congressional district. By wide margins, Latinos also say the Democratic Party has more concern for Hispanics than the GOP does. And the job approval rating for President Obama is like a blast from the past: 65 percent in favor, just 22 percent oppose.
But if Democrats think this constituency can save them next month, not so fast.
"We found that compared to all U.S. registered voters, Latino registered voters were less likely to say they'd given the election a lot of thought," says Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "And Latino registered voters are also less likely to say that they're absolutely certain to vote in the upcoming election."
In fact, Pew found that those Hispanics most likely to vote are the minority registered as Republicans.
Why the apathy for Democrats? The Pew poll and others suggest it's connected to frustration over the unresolved immigration debate. The president has repeatedly promised an overhaul, but Congress has yet to act. Lopez asked Latinos whether this administration's policies have helped or hurt them.
"Latinos are divided," he says. "In fact, half of Latinos say there's been no effect of Barack Obama's administration's policies on the Hispanic community."
A year ago, in another poll by Latino Decisions, many Hispanics said they'd understand if there was no immigration overhaul by the next election, given the nation's many problems. But when asked again earlier this year, that patience had worn thin. Latinos seemed upset that not only had the federal government done nothing, but states like Arizona were now passing their own immigration crackdowns.
Still, civic groups are once again launching an aggressive effort to get out the Latino vote.
"From Houston to Phoenix, from Yuma to Denver, we have seen the Latino community interested in the elections," says Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, or My Family Votes.
Monterroso insists that new citizens and younger Hispanics, especially, are still excited to cast their ballots. And while some may be apathetic at the lack of action on immigration, he says others may be motivated to vote when they see candidates "using the issue of immigration to attack the entire community without distinction."
Immigration aside, the Pew survey finds Hispanic voters look a lot like other Americans: their top concerns are education, jobs, and health care.