Hispanics Key to Victory in 2012 Presidential Race

Republican presidential candidates need to pay attention to this rapidly growing population.

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Mixed in with the cries of "Yes, we can!" at Obama campaign rallies in 2008, one could also often hear refrains of "Si, se puede!" The slogan became a rallying cry for many Hispanic Obama supporters in 2008, and rally they did; 67 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, helping to hand him the victory.

With a booming population, Hispanics' voices will be louder than ever in 2012. According to insiders in the Latino political community, Republican presidential candidates who want to be successful in 2012 need to pay attention to Hispanics, and they need to start now. [See a slide show of the 2012 GOP contenders.]

According to the 2010 Census, the population identifying itself as Hispanic or Latino grew by 43.0 percent from 2000 to 2010, an astounding figure compared to 9.7 percent overall growth in the population. Though 2012 redistricting maps are not yet drawn, the Latino presence already looks formidable. According to 2010 census data, there are 118 existing congressional districts in which more than one-fifth of the population is Hispanic. That is up from just 28, according to 2000 census data, as applied to 110th Congress districts. Furthermore, 93 of those districts are in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, the four states with the most 2012 electoral votes. And Florida is a crucial swing state, alongside Colorado and Nevada, which have seen 41.2 percent and 81.9 percent growth in the Hispanic population, respectively, since 2000.

"Every smart politician is going to have a very dominant outreach if they want to win [in 2012]," says Lionel Sosa, a media consultant who worked with John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Teasing out exact spending levels on advertising and outreach targeting Hispanics from campaign finance data is impossible, as disbursement data only lists payees and not the nature of the messages. but that spending has unmistakably climbed over the last decade, according to Enrique Perez, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Telemundo TV stations. "There absolutely has been a growth in spending by political candidates to attract the Hispanic vote. And it's been a steady increase over the last four or five elections." Cesar Conde, President of Univision Networks, concurs. "Univision has seen growing political advertising sales every cycle and we expect 2012 to shatter previous records," he says U.S. News. [Check out a slide show of cities with the largest Hispanic populations.]

Poll numbers suggest that winning Hispanic voters away from the president will be an uphill battle for Republicans. According to a May 18-22 poll conducted by Allstate and National Journal, 52 percent of Hispanics said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote to re-elect Obama, compared to 42 percent of the total population.

One significant hurdle for Republican candidates will be immigration, a topic that resonates with many Hispanic voters. Several factors made the issue a factor in the 2010 elections. A strict and controversial immigration law passed in Arizona last year, supported almost exclusively by Republicans in the state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle ran a much discussed television ad depicting illegal immigrants as menacing. And in December, Republican senators blocked passage of the DREAM Act, which would have facilitated some undocumented minors' gaining citizenship. Sosa says that such actions on immigration will ultimately hurt Republican presidential candidates in 2012. "Number one, it's not necessary to be so strong against it, and number two, it's a problem that needs to be solved," says Sosa. [See Obama's four ways forward on immigration.]

Indeed, that recent history may well cost the GOP votes in the next election. In a survey performed by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials last year, 54 percent of Latino registered voters said that they were certain, very likely, or somewhat likely to vote against a party or candidate with immigration views they found disagreeable, even if that party or candidate shared most of the respondents' other views.