Who is going to win in November? Follow the Latino Vote.
50 million Hispanics, America's largest minority, (disclosure I emigrated from Chile at age 4) are critical voters in the November election next week. Latinos are 9% of the eligible voters and 16% of the population.
But will they get to the polls?
"The Hispanic vote is probably the No. 1 issue in terms of whether Democrats retain the House," notes pollster John Zogby. "Democrats can't survive if they only get 54 percent of the Hispanic vote."
Moreover, projected turnout among Hispanics is not high: There is disappointment with the Obama administration, and disillusionment with the economy, which is the No. 1 issue, said Zogby in an interview with Newsmax TV.
If Hispanic turnout is low in the midterms, it "could be very very devastating to Democrats' chances," he says -- that's one reason the administration decided to challenge Arizona's controversial immigration law.
Right now, Hispanics are not happy.
In 2008 they overwhelmingly supported Obama, but approval for the President among Hispanics fell sharply from 64% in early June to 54% at the end of July (Zogby International poll.) Gallup has roughly the same results. Support for Obama fell from 69% to 57% in the first five months of 2010, while Obama's support among whites and Blacks remained unchanged during this period.
It's not that Hispanics like the Republicans any better. Support for Republicans also seems to have fallen. Just 22% of Latino registered voters support the Republican candidate in their local congressional district, according to a nationwide survey, while 65% of Latinos say they plan to support the Democratic candidate. This is a 9% drop from the 31% of the Latino vote that John McCain got in 2008.
No wonder Republicans want to deport as many Latinos as possible and oppose immigration reform.
But traditionally only about 50% of eligible Latino voters ever get to the polls. In the excitement and fired up euphoria of 2008, 65% of eligible Latinos voted, a big difference. Normally about 70% of eligible whites vote.
The Pew Hispanic Center earlier this month found that about one in three Hispanic voters had given "quite a lot of thought" to the November election, compared with 50 percent of all registered voters.
Some of the reasons Hispanics don't vote are that many are younger, less educated, poorer, felons, and less involved in American politics.
But these days Hispanics are hurting more than most. Hispanic unemployment rate, at 12.4%, is 44% higher than the white unemployment rate of 8.7%. Obama promised to fix things, but he hasn't gotten around to passing immigration reform and he hasn't fixed the economy.
When questioned Friday in a Spanish language Univision interview on how the president could even ask for the Latino vote, saying the community believes "you haven't worked that hard" to pass a (Immigration) bill, Obama answered:
"If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us...
"If the Latino community decides to sit out this election, then there will be fewer votes and it will be less likely to get done."
Much Hispanic male employment is concentrated in the construction industries and the number of people working in construction is approaching a 14-year low. In September, the industry lost 21,000 jobs while construction unemployment is at an all time high approaching 21%. Millions of jobs have disappeared. Not surprisingly thousands of illegal immigrants are crossing back into Mexico because they can't find work anymore.
Hispanic politicians were outraged earlier this month with the news that a group, Latinos for Reform, bankrolled by conservative Nevada Republicans, placed Spanish-language television ads telling Latinos not vote. The ads blamed the Democrats for double crossing Latinos by failing to follow through on their promise to pass immigration reform. The ads say bluntly, "Don't vote."
Everyone agrees, if Hispanics stay home, it will be impossible for Democrats to win. Their newly empowered political clout will be especially critical in heavily Hispanic California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, New Jersey, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions pointed to a new recent poll that shows increasing interest from Hispanic voter. While about 40 percent of Latinos said they were very enthusiastic about voting in the midterms a month ago, last week that figure rose to 58 percent. Many Latinos say that this new poll indicates that the Latino vote is no longer a sleeping giant but a looming giant.
In many ways Hispanics are like the rest of their fellow Americans. They are upset with the pace of the economic recovery, and after two years, they are losing faith with the Democrats, but they sure don't like the Republicans.
Follow Blake Fleetwood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BlakeFleet