Interview with Pollster Matt Barreto: Obama's Approval Numbers Slipping, Immigration as a Generational Priority & More

Yesterday, Latino Decision released a new poll which found Obama's approval numbers dipping among Latinos.  Here, Latino Decisions pollster Matt Barreto weighs in on the importance of immigration to young Latinos, how the new changes in prosecutorial discretion could affect Obama's approval ratings, and who Latino voters will hold accountable for the debt deal. 

AM: The economy has shot back to being the #1 issue.

MB: The economy and immigration have both been mentioned at top issues of concern by Latino voters since SB1070 took center stage in the Spring of 2010. For most of 2010 the economy was listed as the top issue, and immigration as the number two issue, especially as the election neared and the candidates and the media talked non-stop about the economy. Into 2011 as more and more media attention in the Latino community focused on immigration and deportations, immigration popped up as the top issue. This was also around the time that President Obama hosted multiple meetings on immigration, and gave the speech in El Paso. Now, with the extensive focus on the debt ceiling in August, we see the economy returning as the top issue, however immigration remains a very important issue as well to Latino voters.

AM: Immigration reform/DREAM was most important to Millennials and young Gen X'ers - 45% named it as their main issue, compare to 37% of respondents over all.  Was that surprising at all given that they are the most likely to be American-born?

MB: Immigration reform, and especially support for the DREAM Act has become a very significant issue with younger Latinos. This is because they are more likely to be in contact, through their extensive social networks, with DREAM Act-eligible Latinos.  When a young undocumented college student gets detained or deported, news spreads very quickly across facebook and twitter, and our survey data suggests younger Latinos are very, very committed to this issue.  Even as the younger population tends to be heavily U.S. born, we know that their parents or grandparents are immigrants.  So when the immigration issue comes up you are speaking about their friends, and their parents, so it becomes very personal. While they also worry about their future in terms of the economy, jobs, the issue of immigration has become very personal, and symbolically important.  In our previous poll in June 2011, we found that 59% of Latinos age 18-35 said they personally knew an undocumented immigrant, the highest of any age group.  This month in August 2011, we found that 82% of Latinos age 18-35 support the state level DREAM Act to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who are accepted to college.

AM: Do you think these numbers will be impacted by the latest change in prosecutorial discretion?

MB: The August 2011 impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll was in the field July 29-Aug 9, a good week before word came of the change by DHS in detention and deportation policy. While Obama's approval numbers have dropped 10 points among Latinos since April, a good question is whether or not the recent changes to DHS policy will turn those numbers around. If the White House actively promotes the new policy shift, through public outreach to Latinos, there is good reason to believe Latinos will respond with increased support for the President. While immigration is just one of a number of important issues to the Latino community, it has become a very important symbolic issue over the past two years. With prominent figures such as Jorge Ramos and Luis Gutierrez continuing to call attention to the Obama administration's record on deportations, and the lack of immigration reform in the Congress, Latino voters know very well the failed promises on immigration. Now, with this new announcement by DHS, this could provide a first positive step for the President in talking to Latino voters about a humane solution to immigration enforcement. However, the President and the White House must tout this accomplishment, not sweep it under the rug like a small footnote, in their outreach to Latinos. The next impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll will be released in early October 2011 and we will gauge reaction to this policy shift.

AM: The numbers on the deficit are pretty dramatic and a far cry from the actual deal.  Did you get a sense that respondents realized that?  And if they don't know, once they do, who will they hold accountable? 

MB: With respect to the debt deal, the data are very clear - Latino voters strongly supported a solution that included both tax increases on the wealthy, alongside cuts to existing programs.  The deal that was struck on August 2nd did not produce any tax or revenue increases, and this is very far out of touch with what a majority of Latino voters supported.  But not just Latinos, almost every poll showed that a majority of all Americans supported the inclusion of tax increases on the wealthy as a way to address the debt ceiling issue.  In this survey we did not ask respondents who they blame, but the deal could only be achieved by both Republicans and President Obama cooperating, so my sense is that both sides are to blame.  Back in February we asked respondents if they thought policymakers in Washington D.C. take into account the viewpoints of the Latino community when enacting economic reforms, and 43% said no, 38% somewhat, and just 11% said yes.  The August debt deal is further evidence that what Latino voters told us in February is true.

AM: In Texas, numbers are highest for Republicans, even higher than Florida - was this in the field before or after Rick Perry got in the race?

MB: The poll was in the field before Rick Perry announced.  I believe he announced on August 13th and our poll was out of the field on August 9th.  The sample sizes by state are small, so we don't read too much into them unless there are huge differences.  The overall sample for the poll is n=500 with a margin of error of +/- 4.3.