President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are locked in an intense fight for Hispanic voters, and their main battleground is the hot-button issue of illegal immigration. Obama put the issue center stage earlier this month by curbing deportations of young illegal immigrants, a policy Romney derided as a quick fix that he would replace with unspecified long-term reform. Then, the Supreme Court injected even more controversy into the debate on Monday, throwing out most of Arizona's strict crackdown on illegal immigrants. Despite the election-year heat, however, only 12 percent of Hispanic likely voters in a recent USA Today-Gallup poll rank immigration as the nation's most pressing issue. Twenty-one percent said health care was more important, while 19 percent said the same about unemployment. Does that mean that immigration won't be the make-or-break issue candidates have been making it out to be?
Immigration doesn't matter as much as jobs: Lately, many politicos have been talking about immigration "as if it's the only issue that matters," says Dan Amira at New York. But this poll is an excellent reminder for both campaigns that Hispanic voters care about plenty of other issues as much — or more — than they care about immigration laws. "Turns out that, like everybody else, Hispanics also prefer to have jobs and earn money and maintain their health. Go figure."
"Hispanic voters also care about jobs and health care and such"
But it will surely matter to some Latinos: "The poll reminds us that Latinos aren't a monolithic voting bloc," says Jordan Fabian at Univision. Hispanic voters are, by definition, citizens. And like citizens in all demographic groups, Hispanics don't necessarily see immigration affect their daily lives the way policies on health care and the economy do. But immigration is still "a powerful voting issue" among first- and second-generation Hispanic immigrants, as it often does hit quite close to home.
"Latino voters rate economy, healthcare over immigration, but Obama still leads big"
And immigration could still be the deciding factor: Roughly 21 million Latinos could vote in November, but only 10 million are registered, says Naureen Khan at National Journal. Now, in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration crackdown — which wouldn't have come at all if Obama's Justice Department didn't challenge the law — Obama can paint an ugly picture of "what life under a Republican administration could look like." The thought of having a cop demand your papers could be a huge motivating factor for Hispanics to "turn out in force," especially in heavily Latino swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.
"Will immigration decision fuel Latino turnout?"