Hispanics are upset with Obama on immigration. It means less than you think.

August 7, 2014
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Getty Images

A new poll from CBS News offers a pretty compelling nugget: The current border crisis has caused Hispanics to turn against President Obama on immigration. According to the poll, just 41 percent of them approve of how he's handling the issue, while 53 percent disapprove.

It's interesting. But it's also not really surprising. And it means very little for the 2014 election.

Let's take this step by step. First, why is it not surprising?

Well, Hispanics have long supported Obama and delivered him a huge number of their votes in 2008 (67 percent) and 2012 (71 percent). Clearly, any time a constituency that so overwhelmingly voted for a president is unhappy with him, that means something. And given the currency of the immigration issue to many Hispanics, CBS's finding is not insignificant.

But the Latino community's support for Obama has always been somewhat tepid -- a mile wide but an inch or two deep when it comes to moderate Hispanics -- and really, it's more about opposing the Republican Party.

As we've written before, Obama's approval rating has dipped significantly among Hispanics in recent months. But it did the same thing in his first term, and he still recovered in a big way -- notably after his executive order exempting young illegal immigrants from deportation. He actually wound up increasing his share of the Latino vote in 2012, despite his approval rating among Latinos having dropped below 50 percent in 2011.

Even today, Obama's overall approval rating among Hispanics is still pretty good -- at 54 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval. Clearly, immigration is not the whole ballgame for Hispanic voters.

Perhaps as importantly, the GOP just isn't a viable alternative at this point. While Obama has struggled on immigration and in general, the CBS poll shows Hispanics still favor Democrats on the generic ballot by 54-23 percent. In addition, only 27 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, while 62 percent have an unfavorable view. It's hard to see the GOP winning even one-third of the Hispanic vote with numbers like that.

The Democratic party, meanwhile, remains in good stead, with Hispanics viewing it positively 57-32.

Some will note that this really isn't the point. It's more about turnout. And if Hispanics aren't happy with Obama, they won't come out to vote.

This is probably true. The CBS poll also shows 56 percent of Hispanics say they are less enthusiastic about voting than they usually are, while just 29 percent are more enthusiastic. As Greg Sargent writes, that puts them squarely among the least enthusiastic demographics.

Normally, that would be cause for concern -- especially if we were on the doorstep of a presidential election. But the Hispanic vote isn't really that big a deal in the 2014 election, because there are very few key Senate races in states with significant Hispanic populations. About the only example is Colorado. No other key state will likely feature any more than 3 percent of Hispanic voters, according to Nate Cohn.

The dip in support for Obama on immigration is probably temporary. It might make the White House a little more apt to do a big executive order on immigration -- and will likely increase pressure from pro-immigration reform groups for him to do something like that.

As for it being evidence that Hispanics are turning on Obama and/or the Democratic Party, that's not really the case.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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