Mitt Romney lost Latinos by unprecedented margins -- even worse than the initial exit polls showed -- according to a study by Latino Decisions.
An election eve poll of 5,600 voters across all 50 states by the group, which has researched the Latino vote throughout the campaign, concluded Obama won by an eye-popping 75-23 margin. Their research concluded that CNN's exit poll estimate of 71 percent of Latinos breaking to Obama likely undercounted their support, although they agreed with the assessment that turnout equaled 10 percent of the electorate.
"For the first time in US history, the Latino vote can plausibly claim to be nationally decisive," Stanford University university professor Gary Segura, who conducted the study, told reporters.
According to Segura, the Latino vote provided Obama with 5.4 percent of his margin over Romney, well more than his overall lead in the popular vote. Had Romney managed even 35 percent of the Latino vote, he said, the results may have flipped nationally.
The effect was at least as dramatic in swing states, most notably in Colorado, which Obama won on Tuesday. There Latinos went for the president by an astounding 87-10 margin, an edge not far from the near-monolithic support he received from African American voters. In Ohio, with a smaller but still significant Latino population, Obama won by an 82-17 margin.
"This poll makes clear what we've known for a long time: the Latino giant is wide awake, cranky, and its taking names," Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, told reporters Wednesday on a conference call discussing the results.
Beyond the eye-popping margin of victory, the internal numbers helped explain why many of the Republican's efforts to deal with the problem fizzled in 2012. Romney tacked hard right on illegal immigration, recommending a policy of "self-deportation," but he hoped that by stressing his dedication to legal immigration he might mitigate the damage.
The reason that didn't work, according to the study, is that Latino citizens are too personally connected to undocumented residents to separate the issue. Some 60 percent of high propensity Latino voters say they know someone who is living in the country illegally.
"You're not talking about an abstract immigrant, you're talking about someone the respondent knows and cares for and may in fact be related to," Segura said.
For the GOP, his conclusion was simple: "The Republicans need to make this go away."
The starting point would be comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented residents, a move he says could at least chip away at Democrats' increasing strength with the community. But selling that to the conservative base is going to be a tough slog and could invite a damaging backlash all its own, leaving the future fraught with danger for the right.