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Obama leads big with Hispanics, but they're not fired up and ready to go yet

President Barack Obama waves at supporters after speaking at Obama Victory Fund concert in Miami, Fla.
President Barack Obama waves at supporters after speaking at Obama Victory Fund concert in Miami, Fla.Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

Hispanics overwhelmingly approve of President Obama’s recently announced immigration policy and give him a 40-point lead over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, according to results from a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll.

Obama’s job approval among Latinos has also seen a four-point boost, within the poll’s margin of error, since the immigration announcement.

President Barack Obama waves at supporters after speaking at Obama Victory Fund concert in Miami, Fla.Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

But the president still faces a challenge in energizing Latinos to vote. Hispanics -- the largest-growing demographic group in the country that could also hold the key to Obama’s re-election bid -- are not as interested in this election, so far, as they were at the same point during the 2008 election.

NBC/WSJ/Telemundo poll toplines.

Popular immigration policy

Obama’s recent executive order halting the deportation of illegal immigrants younger than 30 and brought to the United States as children is popular with all voters but even more so among Latinos.

Sixty-eight percent of all Americans said they favored Obama’s order, and 29 percent opposed it. Among Hispanic or Latino adults, almost nine-in-10 favored the new policy.

The poll was conducted June 20-24 after the president’s immigration pronouncement.

Big Obama lead

Obama is ahead of Romney with Hispanic registered voters, 66 to 26 percent, adding six points to his margin over Romney among Latinos from last month’s NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll.

In 2008, Obama won the group, 67 to 31 percent, according to exit polls.

Nearly two-thirds – 65 percent – of Latinos approve of the job the president is doing, up four points since May. That’s much higher than the 47 percent approval Obama gets from all Americans surveyed in the poll.

Obama’s advantage among Hispanic voters could prove especially important in swing states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, where Latinos make up a large – and growing – portion of the electorate – as well as Virginia, where it is also on the rise.

Hispanics prefer Obama, Democrats on the issues – not just immigration

Romney has argued Latinos are not monolithic, that they care about more than just immigration. It’s one reason he has focused largely on the economy in his overtures toward Hispanic voters.

But, fundamentally, Latinos agree with Obama and Democrats on issues, ranging from immigration to health care to the economy and taxes.

They do so by much greater margins than the public at large; they are more optimistic about the country’s direction and economic outlook; and they believe in an expanded role for government.

For example:

  • 72 percent of Hispanics said the president inherited the economic situation; All respondents: 60 percent;
  • 64 percent said government should do more to help; All respondents: 49 percent;
  • 62 percent of Hispanics approve of Obama’s handling of the economy; All respondents: 42 percent;
  • 62 percent said the economy is recovering; All respondents: 51 percent;
  • 56 percent of Hispanics said last month’s jobs report, which showed just 69,000 jobs created, was a reason for optimism; All respondents: 43 percent;
  • By 50-16 percent, Hispanics prefer Democrats on immigration; All respondents: Democrats 33-30 percent;
  • By 48-20 percent, Hispanics said Obama’s push for health care was a good idea; All respondents: bad idea by 41-35 percent;
  • By 46-16 percent, Hispanics preferred Democrats on taxes; All respondents: Republicans 34-32 percent.
  • By 42-17 percent, Hispanics believe President Obama’s economic policies have helped not hurt; All respondents: 33-32 percent;
  • 42 percent of Hispanics said the country is on the right track; All respondents: 31 percent;
  • 30 percent of Latinos said the government was doing too many things; All respondents: 47 percent

"The advantage Democrats currently enjoy among Hispanics/Latinos can be measured of course by the 40-point edge on the presidential ballot by President Obama, but is also seen on the party issue handling sequence, where these respondents say Democrats would do a better job on every issue, even including such traditional Republican bulwarks as government spending, taxes, and terrorism,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrat Peter D. Hart.

Intensity gap: Not quite ¡Obama!

Despite Obama’s built-in advantages with Hispanics, he still faces warning signs among this key voting bloc, even after the immigration announcement. Hispanic voters are not quite as fired up and ready to go to the polls.

Despite jumps in approval for the president and an increased margin over Romney with Hispanics, Latinos indicate they are no more enthused about voting this fall than they were a month ago. Their interest in this election remains far below 2008 levels, and lags well behind other key groups this cycle.

To measure enthusiasm, the pollsters asked respondents to say how interested they are in this November’s contest, on a scale of one to 10. Adding up the 8s, 9s, and 10s gives a good measure of who the most likely voters will be this fall.

Two-thirds – 66 percent – of Latinos put themselves in this high-interest category. Last month, it was 68 percent. That’s much lower than the average of 80 percent in this poll for all adults.

It’s particularly problematic for Obama’s re-election chances, considering some of the highest-interest groups are ones likely to vote for Romney – Tea Party supporters (89 percent), McCain 2008 voters (88 percent), conservatives (84 percent), those 65 and older (83 percent), Republicans (83 percent), and whites (81 percent).

Several key Obama voting groups come in above 80 percent – post-grads (87 percent), urban voters (86 percent), college-educated women (84 percent), Democrats (83 percent), liberals (83 percent), Obama 2008 voters (83 percent), African Americans (81 percent).

But Hispanics and young voters, two key pieces of the puzzle, see a big drop off. Young voters are even lower than Latinos, at just 61 percent.

Consider that in July 2008, four-out-of-five Hispanics – 80 percent – were in the high-interest range. That rose to 100 percent by November, with 92 percent saying they were a 9 or 10.

In this poll, just 52 percent of Latinos said they were a 9 or 10, below the 68 percent of all respondents. In July 2008, 64 percent of Hispanics said they were 9s and 10s.

“The data also reminds us of the signal challenge to the president -- increasing interest, intensity and turn-out among Latinos,” McInturff said.

The pollsters asked another question to gauge enthusiasm. It asked directly how likely they were to vote and, in that category as well, Hispanics lagged behind the average of all adults – 76 percent of Latinos said they were “almost certain” to or “probably” would vote, far below the 93 percent that said so among all Americans.

Taking out those who said “probably,” the gulf is even wider – just 65 percent of Hispanics said they were “almost certain” to vote versus 88 percent of all respondents.

The one silver lining for Obama is the 57 percent of Hispanics said they were more enthusiastic about voting in this election than previous ones, higher than the 47 percent of all respondents who said so. But it doesn’t show up in the interest scale.

Translation: Hispanics like Obama and prefer him by wide margins to Romney, but, so far, they’re not energized – despite the immigration announcement.

But Hart cautioned that, even though the poll was conducted days after the immigration announcement, it’s likely too early to tell if it will resonate with the Latino community in the way Obama hopes.

“This is early,” Hart said. “Obviously, it’s a group that’s less likely to turn out, but now there’s a strong reason to turn out. They have a champion in their corner and an issue that they care about. We’re looking for an instantaneous chain reaction, and it’s too early to be expected.”

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 5.7 percent among all Latino respondents and 6.9 percent among Latino registered voters.