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Immigration Most Important Issue For Arizona's Latino Voters: Poll

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IMMIGRATION ARIZONA LATINOS
Young immigrants, along with members of local immigrant organizations, line up for guidance for a new federal program, called Deferred Action, that would help them avoid deportation Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, in Phoenix. | AP

In poll after poll, Latinos say the issue that concerns them most is not immigration, but jobs and the economy.

Except in Arizona, that is.

Some 55 percent of respondents in a Latino Decisions poll of Hispanic voters in Arizona released Tuesday said immigration was the most important issue that the President and Congress should address. The second-highest response was the economy, at 44 percent. (Respondents were permitted to select two answers.)

The poll results seem to confirm the obvious: that the controversial immigration issue matters more to Latinos in Arizona than the rest of the country. The southwestern state was the laboratory for state-led crackdowns on illegal immigration like SB 1070 and it’s home to some of the most strident advocates of tough enforcement, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer.

The news also contrasts against the GOP’s efforts to play down the volatile issue after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraced the hardline immigration positions of his party’s right wing during the primary. Romney has softened his immigration stance somewhat since winning the party’s nomination, dropping the awkward term “self-deport” and saying he’d support a military-only version of the DREAM Act. But Romney also says he’d overturn Obama’s directive to defer deportation for most immigrants brought here illegally as children.

The GOP insists that those issues don’t matter as much to Latinos as Democrats say. Tuesday’s poll paints a different picture.

Some 26 percent of those surveyed said immigration was the most important issue influencing their vote and another 42 percent said it was one of the most important. Only 8 percent of respondents said Mitt Romney’s immigration positions made them more enthusasitc about voting for him, while 64 percent said Obama’s deferred deportation decision made them more enthusiastic.

Obama walloped Romney among Hispanic voters in the traditionally red state, according to the poll. Eighty percent of respondents said they backed Obama, versus just 14 percent for Romney. The poll showed similar results for senate candidate Richard Carmona, who 75 percent of Hispanics favored, compared to just 12 percent for Republican candidate Jeff Flake.

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Harlem, Carmona has tried to appeal to both Latino voters and independents turned off by the harsh anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric of the right. The most recent average of polls by Real Clear Politics shows a close race, with Flake up 2.3 percentage points above Carmona.

Democratic strategists had hoped the GOP-led illegal immigration crackdown in Arizona would push Latinos to the polls in record numbers, possibly enough to turn the state blue. But as November approaches, it seems those early hopes were optimistic. A report by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy released in August said demographic shifts would likely lead the state to go Democratic, but not for another 20 or 30 years.

Immigration disproportionately affects the Latino community. Four out of five of the estimated 11.1 undocumented immigrants in the United States were born in Latin America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

The poll of 400 Latino registered voters in Arizona was conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 4 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Latino Decisions conducted the poll on behalf of America’s Voice, an organization that supports immigration reform.

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