New polls show that President Obama's shift in deportation policy appears to have had the intended effect of boosting his support among Latino voters, many of whom have been adrift since 2008 and uninterested in the presidential election.
Obama has opened a 40-point lead among Latinos against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, at 66 percent to 26 percent, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll conducted after the president announced a halt to the deportations of some young illegal immigrants.
Obama has gained 5 percentage points since May, while Romney's support dropped by 1 point. Obama's job approval rating among Latinos increased 4 points, to 65 percent. His job approval among all respondents was 47 percent.
Nearly 9 in 10 Latinos favored Obama's policy shift. Among all respondents, nearly 7 in 10 approved of it.
Strategists in both parties believe the election could be determined in a handful of battleground states, some where large Latino populations could be decisive.
Another poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and America's Voice, examined the reactions of Hispanics in the swing states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia. The states were chosen for their big Hispanic populations.
On the day before Obama's June 15 policy announcement, Obama's approval/disapproval ratings with Latinos in those states stood at 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively. On the day after, his approval soared to 61 percent and his disapproval fell to 30 percent.
"We were fortunate to be in the field when Obama made his announcement. It allows us to say within the same sample what Latinos are telling us from day to day," says pollster Matt Barreto, a principal at Latino Decisions. "In this case, we saw a very clear pattern of significant increases."
The president's support among Latinos had softened since he won 67 percent of their votes in 2008. Democrats and Hispanic leaders blamed that on the Obama administration's immigration policies, especially the deportation of a record 1.1 million people in three years.
They argue that Obama can't afford slippage with Latinos given his weakened polling among some white voters.
Reflecting what many say is a lack of enthusiasm, the number of Hispanic registered voters declined 5 percent between 2008 and 2010, to about 11 million. (White numbers shrank at a similar rate, and blacks by about 7 percent.) In Florida and New Mexico, another battleground, Hispanic voter registration fell roughly 10 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
The NBC News poll found Latino enthusiasm for the election didn't improve despite increased support for Obama. Just two-thirds of Latinos were highly interested in the election, compared with 80 percent among all respondents.
The Latino Decisions survey found that the share of "very" enthusiastic Latinos increased to 63 percent after Obama's policy shift, compared with 56 percent beforehand.