How Obama Can Keep Latino Voters: Focus on Health and the Environment

President Obama spent most of the week in California, the state known as the electoral ATM. It was a smart way to close out the third quarter of the fund raising cycle. But even as the checks roll in, campaign watchers are assessing which candidates have energized which segments of the electoral map.

Judging from current numbers, Obama is developing a bit of a Latino problem.

A recent Gallup poll found that his approval ratings have fallen to 48 percent among Latino voters—the lowest since he became president. In 2008, Obama carried 57 percent of the Latino vote. Today, 48 percent say they would give him a second term. In New Mexico, his numbers 69 percent in 2008 to 58 percent right now.

There are several likely reasons for this drop. With the economy still faltering, unemployment rates among Latinos hover above 11 percent, two points higher than the rest of the nation. Meanwhile, Obama has yet to advance the comprehensive immigration reform he spoke about in the 2008 campaign.

This is not a voting block any candidate wants to trifle with. Roughly 22 million Hispanics are projected to be eligible to vote in 2012. Seventy-five percent of the Latino population is concentrated in eight states, where their numbers reach or exceed 1 million: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, and Colorado.

Latino voters could decide several Congressional races in 2012, and maybe even the president if it gets close enough.

That’s why it is so critical for Obama to mobilize this base of support. Despite the dip in Obama’s approval ratings among Latinos, many will probably vote for Obama anyway. The question is: will they come out in big enough numbers to make a difference in battleground states.

If Obama really wants to reenergize these voters and get them to the polls, he needs to stand strong on something Latinos care deeply about: public health and the environment.

These are issues that cut close to home for many. Sixty-five percent of Latinos in the United States live in areas where the air is too polluted to meet federal public health standards. Fifteen percent live within 10 miles of a coal-fired power plant, one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the nation. Breathing air in these regions can lead to increased asthma attacks, bronchitis, cardiac disease, and cancer.

Most Latino voters view strong environmental safeguards and cleaner, more sustainable solutions as ways to protect their families. They will vote for leaders who fight for policies that bring safer air and cleaner water.

A poll of Latino voters across five western states found that 83 percent reject the false choice between protecting land, air, and water and having a good economy. The National Latino Coalition on Climate Change found that a majority of Latino respondents equated switching to clean energy with building a good economy.

Obama can win impassioned Latino support if he makes environment and public health a more central part of his platform. Many Latino leaders were deeply distressed when Obama abandoned stronger smog standards earlier this month. If he sides with polluters one too many times, he will fail to mobilize these critical voters.

But if he allows the EPA to continue releasing strong public health standards and if he keeps threatening to veto the dirty bills coming out of Congress, he can find common cause with the fastest growing population in the country.

Tags: President Obama, California, Latinos, Climate change, poll, President Obama, California, Latinos, Climate change, poll (all tags)

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