Women, Independents and Latinos: How Do Romney and Obama Fare with Each?

By Stella Manrique Rouse, Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

In the “Hope and Change” presidential campaign of 2008, Barack Obama struck a chord with many groups. Besides overwhelming support from African Americans, he was also able to court three other crucial groups: women, independents, and Latinos. However, four years later, the mystique of the “Hope and Change” mantra has dissipated and like much of the population at-large, these three groups have had their share of political disappointments with the President. In a drastically changed political environment, Obama must now run a campaign on substance rather than style and must defend his presidential record to, among others, these three key demographics. An important question then is, given circumstances and the alternative choice; could women, independents, and Latinos be up for grabs? A look at the poll numbers suggests that the “trifecta” may be hard to attain for either candidate.

Is the Gender Gap Narrowing in the 2012 Presidential Election?

Women have been at the center of political discussion over the last few months for a number of reasons. First, in February came the debate over whether Catholic hospitals and educational institutions were obligated to provide contraceptive coverage to employees (Bowers 2012). Rush Limbaugh also created a firestorm when he verbally attacked a Georgetown student who supported contraception coverage by her healthcare provider (Boroff 2012). Then, in a move that gave political ammunition to Republicans, Democratic adviser Hilary Rosen stated that Ann Romney (who raised five sons) “had never worked a day in her life” (Kucinich and Moore 2012). How are these issues playing out with women? Have Republicans made inroads with women voters? The graph below displays the results of a national poll conducted in mid-April of how women judge Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on gender-related issues, general issues, and characteristics of the two candidates.

Candidate Evaluation Among Women Voters

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Source: CNN/ORC poll 4/13-15/12; results of women-only sample.

Despite the perceived fallout from the Hilary Rosen controversy, it does not appear the gender gap is significantly narrowing. On the major issues that matter to women, Democrats hold a comfortable lead. This same poll asked women who they were more likely to vote for and 55 percent favored Obama to 39 percent for Romney, numbers essentially unchanged from the 2008 election (55 percent versus 43 percent).

Can Romney Persuade Independents?

This year, there are several issues that will influence how independents cast their vote. In particular, independents are very concerned about the state of the economy and the rising costs of healthcare. On these issues, President Obama does not fare particularly well with a majority of independents disapproving of how he has handled these issues in his first term (Zeleny and Sussman 2012). A quarter of the independents that supported Obama in 2008 voted for a Republican candidate in the 2010 midterm elections (Madhani 2012). The 2012 presidential election may hinge on which candidate can capture these independents and disillusioned independents could embrace Romney in 2012.

Where do these independent voters currently stand on the two presidential candidates and how do they view Obama and Romney on important issues?

Candidate Evaluation Among Independent Voters

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Source: Politico-George Washington University Battleground Poll, 4/29/12-5/3/12.

Romney currently holds an edge with independents on the majority of the categories listed above; in particular two of the most important categories for independents—“better handle healthcare” and “better handle job as president.” Most promising for Romney (and concerning for Obama) is that the poll asked independent respondents who they were most likely to vote for and 48 percent favored Romney compared to 38 percent for Obama who received 52 percent of the independent vote in 2008.

Romney’s Latino Challenge Does Not Bank the Latino Vote for Obama

The largest of the three groups discussed and the one that has the most potential to deliver an election victory for either of the two candidates is Latinos. However, neither candidate seems to be truly dedicated to wooing Latino voters. President Obama has fallen short on many of the promises he made to Latinos back in 2008 (e.g. no follow through on the Dream Act and no comprehensive immigration reform). He has further aggravated his relationship with Latinos by pursuing an aggressive enforcement immigration policy featuring increased deportations (Slevin 2010).

Romney has not exactly been a champion for Latinos either. In fact, he has run hard to the right on many of the issues that matter to Latinos, for example, by stating that he would veto the DREAM Act and by calling Arizona’s immigration law a “model” (Todd, et al 2012). Now as the presumptive nominee Romney would like to move to the center and try to win over Latino support. How he plans to do this is not exactly clear. What do Latinos think about the candidates and the parties and their efforts to reach out to them?

Latino Voter Enthusiasm for President Obama 2009-2012

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Source: Univision News/ABC/Latino Decisions National Poll Results, 1/24/12.

The chart above reveals that Latinos have certainly lost a great deal of enthusiasm for Obama over his first Presidential term. The next graph below indicates Latinos are not as enthusiastic about coming out to vote this year as they were in 2008. These numbers strongly suggest that Obama has work to do if he is going to mobilize Latinos in the fall.

Latino Voter Enthusiasm for Voting in General Election

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Source: Univision News/ABC/Latino Decisions National Poll Results, 1/24/12.

An additional noteworthy item from the same poll asks Latino voters how they perceive Republican and Democratic party outreach efforts to the group.

Latino Voter Perceptions of Party Outreach to Latinos

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Source: Univision News/ABC/Latino Decisions National Poll Results, 1/24/12.

The poll shows some interesting results. 39 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party does a good job of reaching out to Latinos, while only 17 percent said the same of the Republican Party. However, the “don’t care” category was much closer for both parties with 37 percent of respondents stating that the Democratic Party does not care about them and 45 percent of respondents saying the same about the Republican Party. Clearly both parties have much work to do with Latinos.

Latino respondents were also asked who they were most likely to vote for—67 percent favored Obama compared to 25 percent for Romney, basically unchanged from the 2008 vote. These numbers do not look good for Romney’s ability to win over Latinos, but this support only turns into an Obama victory with enthusiastic turnout.

The Crucial Groups: Turnout will be Key

Women, independents, and Latinos will be three key demographics to look out for in November. Some of these groups will play more pivotal roles in some states. In particular, independents and Latinos could be crucial to deciding the election in states like Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.

A very recent poll shows Romney and Obama in a virtual tie with 49 percent of Americans supporting Obama and 46 percent supporting Romney (Liptak 2012). This is all the more reason to believe that the November turnout of these three groups will be critical to the candidates and the outcome of the election. The results from the various polls presented above show that each group is complex and diverse and requires a unique strategy and commitment from the candidates. Absent this commitment, a group may demobilize and stay home in November. How well can Obama mobilize support among these groups and attain the enthusiastic support that ensured his victory in 2008? Will Romney be able to make inroads among women and Latinos and sustain or expand the support he currently has among independents? The questions surrounding these three groups—women, independents and Latinos— and how candidates (and parties) engage them remains both immediate and long term political theater.

Stella Manrique Rouse is an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and a Research Fellow at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. She has a forthcoming article, “Shades of Faith: Religious Foundations of Political Attitudes Among African Americans, Latinos and Whites” in the American Journal of Political Science. Follow her on twitter @ Stella_Rouse

The commentary of this article reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Latino Decisions.  Latino Decisions and Pacific Market Research, LLC make no representations about the accuracy of the content of the article.

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