In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, there has been extensive discussion about the Republican Party’s failure to appeal to Hispanic voters, whether this failure was responsible—at least in part—for Mitt Romney’s defeat, and whether a change in immigration policy would be sufficient to shift the Latino vote rightward in the next election.
Looking at actual vote counts and the exit poll results from the recent election can provide insight into answering two important questions: First, was Mr. Obama’s electoral victory dependent on high Hispanic turnout and support from a large percentage of the Hispanic vote? And second, if the Hispanic vote did prove decisive in the outcome, how easy would it be for a Republican candidate to gain a significantly greater share than Mr. Romney in future elections, assuming the Republicans agree to some type of comprehensive immigration reform?
In states where polling data on the two candidates’ shares of the Hispanic vote were not available, we allocated the national Hispanic support level of 71 percent to Mr. Obama, and the remaining 29 percent to Mr. Romney.
By then removing the number of Hispanic votes from each candidate’s vote total and reallocating them back to the two candidates in order to equalize their total votes, one can determine what percentage of the Hispanic vote Mr. Obama needed to carry each of the key states. For example, in Wisconsin, 3,056,613 votes were cast, of which 4 percent, or 122,264 votes, were cast by Hispanics according to exit polls. Mr. Obama’s margin of victory in Wisconsin was over 200,000 votes—even if all Hispanics had voted for Mr. Romney instead of voting for Mr. Obama by more than two to one, he would have won the state.
Not unexpectedly, the Hispanic vote was also not decisive in Iowa or New Hampshire where Mr. Obama could have carried the states even if he had won none of the Hispanic vote whatsoever.
In Ohio, where the president received an estimated 54 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit poll data, we find he could have won the state with as little as 22 percent of the Hispanic vote, and in Virginia, where he received 64 percent of the Hispanic vote, we find that he could have carried the state with just over 33 percent.
It is also worth noting that in states that were not considered battleground territory, Mr. Obama could still have won without a majority of the Hispanic vote. In California, Mr. Obama took the state’s 55 electoral votes with 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, but could have won with as little as 25 percent. And in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), where Mr. Obama received an estimated 80 percent of the Hispanic vote, he could have still carried the state with just over 37 percent.
With these five swing states, along with the safe Democratic states that Mr. Obama should have carried regardless of the Hispanic vote, the president would have reached 283 electoral votes, winning the Electoral College without needing to win a majority of the Hispanic vote in each state.
In the remaining swing states—Nevada, Florida and Colorado—along with New Mexico, Mr. Obama did require a majority of the Hispanic votes cast in order to carry those states, although the shares he achieved still exceeded the threshold minimums he needed. In Colorado, where Mr. Obama received an estimated 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, we estimate that he could have won with just over 58 percent, and in Nevada, where he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, he could have carried the state with just under 54 percent. In the key battleground of Florida (29 electoral votes), Mr. Obama’s 60 percent share of the Hispanic vote was just above the 58 percent share required for victory in that state.
In New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Colorado, slightly higher shares (but still less than a majority) of the Hispanic vote could have swung them to Mr. Romney, and this may well put these states in play in the next election if the Republican candidate and platform have broader appeal among Hispanic voters.
The exit poll results suggest that the Republicans’ assertion that Hispanics are socially conservative is not necessarily true.
Two-thirds of Hispanic voters said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared with slightly more than half of white voters, according to exit poll results. Hispanics were also more liberal when it came to same-sex marriage, with 59 percent saying it should be legal in their state, compared with 51 percent of blacks and 47 percent of white voters.
Exit poll results also indicate that Hispanics are not necessarily racing to adopt the Republican platform of smaller government. Nearly 6 in 10 Hispanics said Mr. Obama’s health care law should be expanded or left as is, compared to about a third of white voters. And 57 percent of Hispanics said that government should be doing more to solve the problems of individuals, compared to 36 percent of whites. Hispanics, like the rest of the electorate, were also in favor of raising income taxes in order to reduce the federal deficit.