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Obama leads big with Latinos, but enthusiasm still lags


President Barack Obama continues to lead presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney by wide margins with Latinos, according to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll.

Hispanics, the largest-growing segment of the U.S. population over the past decade, said they preferred Obama over Romney in the presidential race, 63 to 28 percent.

That margin has been relatively consistent since May when the poll started sampling additional Latino interviews. It’s also, though, far below the stated Romney campaign goal of winning 38 percent of the Hispanic vote.

"Our goal is to do better than four years ago and the McCain campaign did — our goal is to hit 38 percent with the Hispanic vote," Jose Fuentes, a national co-chairman of Romney's Hispanic leadership team, told The Hill newspaper. "That's our goal. That's our national average."

Full NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo Hispanic oversample poll here.

By every measure and every issue – from foreign policy to immigration, the economy to taxes – Hispanic registered voters said they overwhelmingly preferred Obama over his Republican opponent. But there continues to be a warning sign for the president’s reelection campaign: Latinos are among the least enthusiastic voting groups in the country this cycle.

“The president continues to perform strongly among Latinos, but his campaign continues to face the challenge of engaging interest and turn-out,” said Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “As we head into the conventions, the evidence suggests Latino voters continue to lag behind in terms of their self-described interest in this election.”

Despite President Obama’s June immigration announcement – which halted the deportation of illegal immigrants younger than 30 and who were brought to the United States as children – there has not been an uptick in Latino enthusiasm. That policy took effect Aug. 15, but Latino interest in this election is at its lowest point in the NBC-WSJ-Telemundo poll.

Just 61 percent of Latinos indicated a high level of enthusiasm in the upcoming election (registering an “8,” “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale). That’s 20 points below the average of 81 percent of all voters. And almost 20 points below 2008 levels for Latinos at about the same time before the election.

In this poll, in fact, one in 10 Latinos declared themselves a “1” – the highest level recorded this cycle.

And less than half (49%) count themselves as the highest-interest voters (9s and 10s). That’s the lowest among all voting groups in the NBC/WSJ poll.

They are similar, but below even the interest level of young voters, age 18-34. Fifty-two percent of young voters say they are 9s or 10s. Both should be red flags for the Obama campaign, as both young voters and Latinos are pillars of the president’s reelection hopes.

Still, Romney is seeing his worst likeability scores with Latinos. His negative rating is at an all-time high with the group – 48 percent (with 31 percent viewing him very negatively). Just 31 percent viewed him positively.

Obama, on the other hand, is viewed positively by more than two-thirds of Hispanics (67 percent).

Also, the U.S. Census found that Latinos now make up almost 17 percent of all Americans, and, since 2000, they have grown four times faster than the rest of the country.

They voted well below those population figures in 2008, however, making up just 9 percent of all voters.

But because of those demographics, even if intensity is down, they will still make up a significant chunk of the electorate that cannot be ignored, McInturff said.

“We don't know the percentage of the electorate that is going to be Latino -- one could argue it might be as low as 7 percent or as high as 10 percent,” McInturff said, “but, even if it drops from 2008 levels down to 8 percent, among likely Latino voters, the president is up by 40 points. That's a margin Gov. Romney has to narrow or he is placing a lot of pressure to perform exceptionally well among white voters to win the campaign.”

Romney VP pick doesn’t move Latinos

If Romney was hoping to move Hispanic voters with his vice-presidential pick, he didn’t do it with Paul Ryan.

A majority (54 percent) said the pick of the Wisconsin congressman will not affect their vote; 28 percent said it makes them less likely to vote for Romney; just 15 percent said it makes them more likely to do so.

Further, almost half (44 percent) say Ryan is “out of step,” as compared to just a third who say he’s “in the mainstream.”

On Medicare, a key issue involving Ryan’s controversial budget plan, a majority of Hispanics believe the program needs to be reformed, but almost six-in-10 Hispanic side with President Obama over the alternative posed by Romney-Ryan.

Fifty-seven percent said they agreed more with the president’s argument that Medicare “is a bad idea because it would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system giving seniors a set amount of money to pay for their health care costs and leaving them to personally cover costs above this amount.”

There were Latino Republicans in consideration for Romney’s vice-presidential slot, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Both will speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

The live-caller telephone survey of 300 Hispanic registered voters was conducted from Aug. 16 to 20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percent.