Few Latinos 'angry' over Obama immigration policy, but support slips

Only a small minority of Latino voters report that they are “angry” over President Obama’s decision this year to delay executive action on immigration reform, but disappointment over his deportation policies is widespread, and Democrats have suffered a decline in support from a crucial voting bloc, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

Separately, a survey of Americans younger than 30 also shows a decline in support for Democrats. The poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics showed Obama’s approval rating among members of the millennial generation had dropped to 43%, with 53% disapproving. That group’s level of support for Obama was down from 47% this spring, though still slightly greater than a year ago.

The poll of younger Americans also showed a sharpening division along racial lines, with whites disapproving of Obama by 31% to 65%, African Americans still overwhelmingly approving of the president (78% approve, 17% disapprove) and Latinos almost evenly divided.

Taken together, the two surveys show stresses on the coalition of voters who elected Obama. They come as the country approaches a midterm election in which the president’s party is likely to suffer significant losses in part because of an expected mediocre turnout by key parts of that coalition.

The Pew survey showed that Latino support for Democrats has receded on a couple of key measures, including party identification and a question about which party better represents their interests. But the decline was modest, noticeable mostly by contrast with very high levels of support achieved in 2012, when Obama won reelection.

Just over six in 10 Latinos said they either consider themselves Democrats or lean in that direction, down from 70% in 2012 but still at a historically high level.

One in four Latinos said they identify with or lean toward the Republicans, up slightly over the past few years and back to the level of support during the George W. Bush presidency.

Asked which party “has more concern for Latinos,” half named the Democrats and 10% said Republicans, with just over one-third saying they saw no difference. On that question, too, the Democrats’ standing has dropped from a high point reached during Obama’s reelection, but only to the level that prevailed during most of his first term. The Republican standing has not changed significantly.

One factor buoying Democrats is that Latinos remain more positive about the nation’s direction than are Americans overall. Just over four in 10 Latino voters said they are satisfied with the way things in the country are going, compared with fewer than three in 10 voters overall. Among foreign-born Latinos, more than half said they were satisfied with the country’s direction.

But deportations remain a significant point of tension.

More than six in 10 Latino adults said they disapproved of the administration’s record on deportations, with only one-quarter approving. The numbers are slightly less negative, with 55% disapproving and 33% approving, among Latino registered voters.

Although administration officials insist that they have tried to focus deportations on those unauthorized immigrants who have criminal records, one in four Latinos said they personally knew someone who had been deported or detained for immigration reasons in the last 12 months. That share rose to almost one in three among Latinos with at least one immigrant parent.

After the House failed to act on immigration reform legislation, Obama said he would take executive action to protect significant numbers of unauthorized immigrants from deportations. In early September, he decided to put off that action until after next week’s midterm elections.

Immigration activists have heckled Obama and other Democratic officials at recent public events and have vowed to keep up pressure on the administration.

But the poll indicates that relatively few Latino voters are so upset.

About one in four Latino registered voters said they were “disappointed” by the delay, but only 9% described themselves as “angry” about it. Almost one in five said they were “pleased.”

Latinos who primarily speak Spanish were somewhat more likely to have heard about Obama’s delay and to have negative feelings about it, the survey showed, with 17% describing themselves as “angry.”

Protection against deportations remains the top priority of Latino voters in any immigration reform package. Just over half of Latino voters said that being able to live and work in the U.S. without threat of deportation was more important than a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. Four in 10 said citizenship was the top priority. Those figures were little changed from last year.

Two-thirds of Latino voters said immigration reform was either a “very” or “extremely” important priority. And more (45%) blamed Republicans in Congress for the failure so far than blamed congressional Democrats (14%) or Obama (20%).

More than one in three Latino voters said they would not vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on immigration policy, even if the candidate agreed with them on most other issues. Just over half said they would vote for such a candidate.

Among voters whose chief language is Spanish, the share calling immigration policy a deal breaker rose to half.

Despite the importance of immigration, Latino voters were more likely to rank three other policy areas – education, jobs and healthcare – as very or extremely important to them.

More than nine in 10 said education and jobs and the economy were very or extremely important, and 86% gave that rating to healthcare. Just under three-quarters said immigration was very or extremely important. Those rankings have been consistent in recent years.

For more on policy and politics, follow @DavidLauter on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Few Latinos 'angry' over Obama immigration policy, but support slips
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