Mitt Romney is closing the gap on President Barack Obama among likely Hispanic Florida voters, a majority of whom say they're not better off than four years ago, according to a new Florida International University/Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll.
Obama is ahead of Romney 51 to 44 percent among Hispanics, a relatively narrow lead that could spell trouble for a Democratic campaign that's counting on minority support as non-Hispanic white voters flock to the Republican ticket in droves.
In the rest of the country, however, it's a different story for Obama when it comes to likely Hispanic voters.
The president wallops Romney 66 to 31 percent overall across the United States, according to the poll's national survey of 1,000 likely Hispanic voters. It was taken Wednesday and Thursday along with the 720-voter poll in Florida.
The difference here: Cuban-American voters, who are overwhelmingly Republican and appear to be increasingly excited about Romney's campaign.
"What's remarkable is the demographic split in Florida: Puerto Rican and Dominican and other Hispanic voters trust Obama. Cubans just don't," said Eduardo Gamarra, an FIU professor of Latin American studies who conducted the poll with his political research firm, the Newlink Group.
In the national and Florida surveys, Cuban voters consistently gave Obama low marks on handling the economy, immigration and foreign policy. Puerto Rican and Dominican voters said the opposite.
Take out Cuban voters, and Obama wins Florida Hispanics 64 percent to Romney's 33 percent, according to the poll, which has a 3.6 percent error margin.
Overall, 54 percent of Florida Hispanics said they were not better off than four years ago, compared to 46 percent who said they were. That's not just a reflection of Cuban sentiment; it's an indication of Florida's unemployment rate, which is higher than the nation's. And Hispanic unemployment is higher still. The number of Hispanic children living in poverty now exceeds the number of non-Hispanic white children, even though Hispanics are a minority.
Nevertheless, Obama edges Romney 51 to 48 percent over who would be better at fixing the economy. He also pulls ahead of Romney 53 to 47 percent over handling foreign policy and 55 to 44 percent concerning immigration.
Asked if Obama had "fulfilled his promises to the U.S. Hispanic community," 51 percent said no.
That could be a legacy of Obama's 2008 pledge to pass the proimmigrant DREAM Act in his first term. It failed in the U.S. Senate, thanks to a Republican filibuster.
The nation's most-influential Spanish-language TV personality, Univision's Jorge Ramos, made Obama's failure a major issue last month during a nationally televised forum at the University of Miami.
"A promise is a promise, and with all due respect," Ramos said, "you didn't keep that promise."
Obama seemed to agree later when asked what his biggest failure was: "Well, Jorge as you remind me, my biggest failure has been comprehensive immigration reform."
The poll found nearly 5 percent of Florida Hispanic voters are undecided. Candidate Gary Johnson, a Libertarian, received less than 1 percent of respondents' support.
Most polls of Floridians are showing a dwindling number of undecided voters as the Oct. 27 early voting date draws near.
Cubans account for a little more than a third of registered Florida Hispanic voters, but can account for 40 to nearly 50 percent of the actual Hispanic vote, pollsters say. About 47 percent of respondents in this poll were Cuban.
Gamarra, a registered Democrat of Bolivian descent, said he didn't want to adjust — or "weight" — the sample to bring down the number of Cuban voters. He points out that there is no concrete data available that definitively shows how many Hispanic voters are, say, Cuban or Puerto Rican.
However, there is clear data showing the breakdown of overall Hispanic voters by party in Florida. Hispanics account for about 14 percent of the active registered voters in the state, 38 percent are Democrat, 30 percent are Republican and 32 percent are independent — mainly no-party-affiliation voters.
If the poll were weighted to purely reflect registration only, Obama would lead Romney by 10 points, 53 to 43 percent.
The Newlink poll is the first attempt to survey Florida's diverse population of Hispanic voters by using Interactive Voice Response technology — known as "robopolling" — in which people essentially cast their vote by using their telephone keypads in response to prerecorded questions.
Newlink and Gamarra have used the technology to poll throughout Latin America since 2004.
Robopolling has become relatively common in Florida and the nation overall, used by firms like SurveyUSA, Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling. Many of them do not poll in Spanish. This survey gave respondents the option, and surveyed 80 percent of Florida respondents in Spanish.
Because robopolling does not include cellphones, critics say, it can miss younger and more liberal-leaning voters.
Polling Florida Hispanics is a particular challenge, Gamarra said, because of its dynamic population: Republican-leaning Cubans in South Florida, Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and a mishmash of South and Central Americans throughout the state.
Nationwide, voters of Mexican descent dominate the Hispanic electorate.
A poll conducted last week for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and the Miami Herald by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed Romney and Obama virtually tied among likely Hispanic voters in Florida. That survey used live callers, but it had such a small sample size of Hispanics that the error margin is large enough to render the exact head-to-head numbers statistically insignificant.