With each passing US election the Hispanic vote becomes more crucial to clinching the presidency. But does the Republican Party risk alienating that constituency with its increasingly hostile rhetoric and policies?

"Harsh, intolerable and inexcusable" - that is how senior Republicans in Florida described the manner in which Republican presidential hopefuls discussed immigration leading up to the primary there.

"They've really got to reach out and I want to remind people that the Latinos will be a big swing vote... Offensive things like our ethnic studies being denied and banned in states like Arizona to us represent the Republican party. Right now Obama has got to capture our hearts and imagination with good old-fashioned American values that we children of the American dream believe in."

- Tony Diaz, novelist and leader of the activist group Librotraficantes

The state's former governor, Jeb Bush, says the candidates should tone down their language or risk alienating the Latino vote.

It is a sign of the importance now placed on attracting Hispanic voters as the primary season moves into the southwestern states.

And although Latinos tend to vote Democratic, President Barack Obama will also have some convincing to do this November to overcome growing disillusionment with his policies.

Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in the US and they are expected to increase to around one-third of the population by 2050.

Immigration reform is a major issue and hardline Republican laws in several states as well as the record number of deportations under Barack Obama are unlikely to sit well with Hispanic voters.

But as with other minorities, Latinos are bearing the brunt of the financial crisis. So the number one issue - as for many other American voters - is likely to be the economy. 

Do both parties now risk alienating Latino voters? 

Joining Inside Story US 2012 to discuss this are: Israel Ortega, the editor of Libertad.org, a conservative Spanish language website; Brent Wilkes, the executive director of the League of United Latino American Citizens; and Tony Diaz, a novelist and leader of the activist group Librotraficantes.

When he was asked about his plan to deal with illegal immigration, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney said:

"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we're not going to round people up.

The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here illegally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country."

Latino voters facts:

  • 21.7m Hispanic are eligible to vote in the US 2012 presidential election
  • US Census Bureau estimates Hispanics to be one-third of the US population by 2050
  • In California and Texas nearly 40% of the population is Hispanic
  • 16% of the US population is Hispanic, but only 10% of voters are Hispanic
  • A majority of Latino voters are backing President Barack Obama
  • A poll shows that Obama is getting 68% support while Romney got 23%
  • The Obama administration has failed to reform the immigration system
  • The US Congress unable to agree on amnesty for undocumented migrants
  • Most Republicans and some Democrats oppose an amnesty for undocumented migrants
  • There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US
  • More that eight in ten undocumented immigrants are of Hispanic origin
  • Most Republican candidates call for tough immigration measures
  • Nearly 397,000 people were deported in 2011 by the Obama administration
  • Nearly 60% of Latinos disapprove of Obama's deportation policy


Source: Al Jazeera