U.S. President Barack Obama can barely say "Hola,
buenos dias" in Spanish, but in recent days he has even ventured into
making an advert in that language: he spoke for only 31 seconds and
sounded quite wooden, but it will have to do.
First Lady Michelle Obama will not even go that far, but she has also ventured into an an ad targeting Hispanics, in which popular Cuban-American journalist Cristina Saralegui asks her in Spanish, "Why is it so important for Latinos to vote in this election?"
Michelle Obama answers in English, with Spanish subtitles.
According to The New York Times, the Democratic Party has spent almost twice as much as its Republican rival on campaign ads in Spanish: 8.9 million dollars, compared to 4.6 million dollars.
At first sight, it could seem strange that the Democrats are willing to devote so much effort and money to a minority which may be the largest and the fastest-growing in the country but is still not the biggest in terms of votes.
Indeed, opinion polls have unequivocally shown that Hispanic voters strongly favour the Democrats by as much as 3 to 1.
An opinion poll made public by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) concluded that a record 12.2 million Hispanics could go to the polls on Tuesday, 26 per cent more than four years ago when they had already attained a record level.
Still, this amounts to about half the total of 23.7 million Hispanics who are entitled to vote, and even that figure is just 11 per cent of all US citizens with the right to cast a ballot.
According to NALEO, the proportion of Hispanics who actually turn up to vote will not amount to more than 8.7 per cent of the total ballots cast.
So why all this effort?
The answer deals not so much with how many votes are at stake but with where those votes actually are cast. The interesting thing about the Latino vote is that it appears likely to be crucial in the swing states that will decide the election, especially Colorado, Florida and Nevada, but also Virginia, Iowa or even North Carolina.
In 2008, the Latino population in those states strongly favoured Obama: 61 per cent in Colorado, 57 per cent in Florida and 76 per cent in Nevada, a state in which the Hispanic vote was again crucial two years later for the Democrats to hold on to their majority in the Senate.
According to the swing state opinion polls carried out by Latino Decisions over the month prior to the election, the figures could even increase this year in favour of the Democratic incumbent in those key states and others.
The lot becomes even more relevant when the number of Hispanic voters in those states amounts to a substantial proportion of local residents entitled to vote: 16 per cent in Florida, 15 per cent in Nevada and 14 per cent in Colorado, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The case of Florida, which has proved critical in recent elections, is particularly interesting since the local Hispanic population, which has traditionally been dominated by pro-Republican Cuban-Americans, is now being balanced by Puerto Ricans, who are more likely to vote for the Democrats.
In that state, where until 2002 there were more Hispanic voters registered as Republicans than as Democrats (37-33 per cent), the tables have turned and by 2008 the Democrats were in the lead (38-30 per cent).
The vote of minorities such as Latinos could become more vital if the recent trend spotted by opinion polls, according to which Obama is losing support among white voters, is confirmed. If that is the case, the incumbent would need to compensate with votes from other groups if he wants to beat his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Obama himself admitted in recent days that he potentially has a lot to thank Hispanic voters for.
"I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community," he told the Iowa daily Des Moines Register.
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