For U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Latino voters made history this month as the decisive force behind President Barack Obama winning the popular vote over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
About a week after the election, the Democratic senator claimed the race marked the first time when the popular vote was decided by Latino voters. Going forward, Republicans must face the growing electoral power of the Latino community, according to Menendez.
"For the first time in history, the share of the national popular vote margin is smaller than the Latino vote margin," Menendez said at a Nov. 14 event hosted by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The senator is correct that Latino voters in 2012 made the difference in securing Obama’s popular vote victory. But Menendez’s claim about this scenario occurring "for the first time in history" needs clarification.
Latino voters also delivered more than enough votes to make Vice President Al Gore the popular vote winner in 2000. But unlike Gore, Obama won both the popular vote and received enough electoral votes to win the election.
That means this year’s election marks the first time when Latino voters played a decisive role in electing the president, according to the founders of Latino Decisions, a Seattle, Wash.-based polling research firm.
The firm’s research has been widely cited by numerous media organizations, including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
The senator’s claim is based on a recent study by Latino Decisions, in which it analyzed the results of a nationwide poll of Latinos conducted in the days leading up to the election.
Based on that poll, Latino Decisions estimated that Latinos gave Obama a net gain of 5.4 percent of all popular votes. Since Obama won the overall popular vote by about 2.8 percent, Latino voters put Obama over the finish line, according to Gary Segura, a political science professor and co-founder of Latino Decisions.
Applying the same methodology to exit polling data used by the Associated Press and major U.S. newspapers and television networks, PolitiFact New Jersey reached a similar conclusion.
But a similar scenario occurred in 2000, when Gore won the popular vote by a smaller margin than the net gain he received from Latino voters, according to exit polling data compiled by The New York Times.
Yet since Gore didn’t get enough electoral votes to win the presidency, 2012 marks the first year when Latino voters played a decisive role in a presidential election, according to Segura and Matt Barreto, also a political science professor and co-founder of Latino Decisions.
Barreto told us in an e-mail that Menendez’s comments "are based entirely on our research, and the spirit of the comments were that Latinos ‘made a difference’ in the national election results for the first time ever -- that is accurate since Gore lost the EC (electoral college) vote."
Kerri Talbot, Menendez’s chief counsel, echoed Barreto’s argument, saying the point of Menendez’s speech was that 2012 "was the first time Latinos made a difference in the national election."
"I understand your point about the 2000 election popular vote but the Latino vote was not decisive in that election given that Gore lost in the electoral college," Talbot said in an e-mail.
About a week after Obama won re-election, Menendez claimed: "For the first time in history, the share of the national popular vote margin is smaller than the Latino vote margin."
The senator’s correct that Latino voters put Obama over the top in winning the popular vote, according to both a Latino Decisions poll and exit polling data. But Menendez should have been clearer about the historic nature of the Latino vote in 2012.
The 2000 election was the first time when Latino voters delivered more than enough votes for a popular vote victory, but this year’s election marks the first time when Latinos were decisive in electing the overall winner, according to the founders of Latino Decisions.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
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