Hispanics were a key factor in President-elect Barack Obama's victory. He captured the support of 67 percent of this group, an increase of 14 points over John Kerry's 53 percent in 2004. Republican nominee John McCain took just 31 percent, down from the 44 percent President Bush received in 2004.
Yet, these voters were not solidly behind Obama during the Democratic primaries. In fact, Hillary Clinton won the support of about six in 10 Hispanics in those contests and they were essential to her victories in the California and Texas primaries.
As the primaries ended and the general election campaign got underway, Hispanics warmed to Obama. A troubled economy and dissatisfaction with the current President and his party drove more Hispanics to the Democratic column this time around.
As expected, Obama did better among younger Hispanics nationwide than with older Hispanics. Seventy-six percent of Hispanics under age 30 supported the Illinois Senator; but 62 percent of those 30 and over also backed him.
Obama won the support of even the most religious Hispanics getting the backing of 62 percent of those who attend religious services at least once a week. In 2004, Bush won this group by 52 percent to 46 percent. Seventy-two percent of Hispanic Catholics also voted for Obama. Fifty-eight percent of this group backed Kerry in 2004.
Like most voters in this year's election, the economy was the dominant issues for Hispanics. Forty-one percent were also looking for a candidate who could bring change, higher than the 34 percent of the overall electorate who said that (including just 29 percent of whites). And among those Hispanic change voters, 93 percent voted for Obama.
The Role Of Race
There was considerable discussion about race and what role it might play in this election. Early in the campaign, there was speculation that Hispanic voters might not embrace an African American candidate. In a January 2008 interview with "The New Yorker," Clinton pollster Sergio Bendixen said "the Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates."
Exit polls found that 23 percent of Hispanics said race was a factor in their vote President. Thirty-two percent of blacks said it was, as did 17 percent of whites.
But among those Hispanics who said race was a factor, 68 percent voted for Obama; fewer than a third (31 percent) backed McCain. On the other hand, 61 percent of whites who said race was a factor supported McCain. Of the third of blacks who cited race as a factor in their vote, nearly all backed Obama.
The GOP And President Bush
Like the electorate overall, Hispanics were more likely to identify themselves as Democrats in 2008 compared to 2004 and fewer described themselves as Republicans. Fifty-one percent called themselves Democrats this year, compared to 42 percent who did so in 2004. Hispanic voters identifying themselves as Republicans fell from 31 percent in 2004 to 21 percent this year.
Moreover, Hispanics views of Bush (along with the electorate has a whole) changed dramatically over the past four years. On Election Day in 2004, 51 percent of Hispanics approved of the job George W. Bush was doing as President, but this year, that number dropped to 21 percent. With dismal ratings like these, it did not help John McCain that just over half of Hispanics thought the Arizona Senator would continue Bush's policies.
In fact, 35 percent of Hispanic voters who backed Obama this year, supported Bush four years ago.
Helping Turn Red States Blue
Hispanics were instrumental in helping turn some 2004 red states blue in 2008. In Florida, Obama won 57 percent of the Hispanic vote, a reversal from 2004, when about the same number – 56 percent - backed Bush, the Republican.
The share of the Hispanic vote increased in three important red states from 2004: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Obama got solid majorities of the Hispanic vote in all three, significantly improving on Kerry's numbers in both Nevada and New Mexico, putting these states in the Democratic column this year. In Nevada, the Democratic share of the Hispanic vote rose from 60 percent to 76 percent, in New Mexico, Obama received 69 percent compared to 56 percent for Kerry in 2004.
A More Diverse Electorate
According to the exit polls, 28 percent of Hispanics voters were casting a ballot for the first time in 2008, compared to 19 percent of African Americans and 8 percent of whites who were new voters. Also, voters age 18-29, a group Obama won handily, are more racially diverse than the electorate as a whole. Fourteen percent of young voters were Hispanic (compared to 9 percent of voters overall), and another 18 percent were African American.
With the American electorate becoming more diverse, Hispanics are likely to remain key group that both political parties hope to attract.