Obama’s immigration action, the 2016 election, and Hispanic public opinion

William JordanUS Elections Editor
November 18, 2015, 11:12 AM GMT+0

One year on, Latinos feel much better about the president and his party

A year after President Obama signed off on a major executive action on immigration his popularity with Latinos has recovered to all-time highs – and esteem in the Democratic Party has risen with it, according to YouGov/Economist Polls conducted over the past 12 months.

When President Obama announced the changes on November 20th 2014, his approval rating was near the lowest point of his presidency. The year saw Iraq unravel, ISIS rise, and Ebola loom, culminating in a decisive defeat for the president’s party at the midterm elections. His rating fell among the public overall, but also among Latinos who had been especially supportive of the president in the 2012 election.

In late-2014 and 2015, however, Obama’s ratings rebounded. The recovery is especially pronounced among Hispanics. And it isn’t just Obama’s rating that has improved disproportionately with Hispanics. The favorability of the Democratic Party and Democrats’ edge on a generic presidential ballot both followed a similar trend.

Obama’s executive action offers quasi-legal status and deportation relief to over four million undocumented immigrants who were the parents of citizens or legal residents. The changes have yet to be fully implemented amid an ongoing legal battle. In a recent YouGov/Economist poll, 58% of Latino respondents identified themselves either as immigrants or first generation immigrants.

It’s difficult to attribute the changes to any single event. In December 2014 the Obama administration also announced plans to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba. In 2015, the president secured victories on international trade and the Iran nuclear deal.

It’s also hard to predict what the numbers mean for the president and his party going forward. On the generic presidential ballot (which is probably a helpful indicator for the nation's political mood, but unreliable for predicting election outcomes), the generic Democrat's standing has improved with Hispanics but worsened with non-Hispanic whites.

Several Republican presidential candidates, such as frontrunner Donald Trump, have used anti-immigrant rhetoric and are deeply unpopular with Hispanics, but the Republican Party’s ratings with Hispanics have not changed much since the beginning of the campaign. The GOP’s unfavorables have actually fallen since late 2013, when YouGov began measuring (albeit this was immediately after the government shutdown, which many Americans blamed on the GOP).

However, events over the past year – including, but not limited to the changes to federal immigration policy – have coincided with a marked improvement in how Latinos view the president and his party. While he won’t be on the ballot this time around, the president is entering 2016 at least as popular with Hispanic voters as he was in November 2012 – when they supported Obama over Mitt Romney by a margin of 44 points.

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Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.