As the Georgia-based political analyst Alan Abramowitz rightfully points out this morning, “It’s way too soon to make any firm prediction about the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. We don’t know what President Obama’s approval rating will be in the fall of 2012 or what condition the U.S. economy will be a year from now….And of course we don’t know who the president’s Republican challenger will be, which could make a big difference in the outcome.”True that. Nevertheless, this much seems certain:Obama’s re-election prospects will be seriously imperiled unless he can again attract massive and enthusiastic support from the nation’s fastest growing minority group, Hispanics. Their votes made the difference for Obama in a number of ’08 swing states. And since the ’12 election looks to be a lot tighter, their votes will be even more crucial next year.The hitch, however, is that right now Hispanics are notably under-enthused. Maybe it’s “way too soon” to suggest that the current mood is predictive of 2012 (as Abramowitz warned), but the Obama strategists would be wise to gauge the current Hispanic mood as the political equivalent of DEFCON 3.Obama won 68 percent of a record-high Hispanic vote in 2008. Hispanics essentially gave him the margin of victory in at least four states that typically go Republican in presidential elections: Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada. They also helped buttress his wins in several other normally red states, notably Virginia and North Carolina. But the latest polls suggest that Obama won’t be able to reboot that enthusiasm in 2012.According to a mid-summer poll, conducted by impreMedia/Latino Decisions in the 21 states with the largest Hispanic populations, only 38 percent of registered Hispanic voters said that they are certain to support Obama’s re-election bid. That was an 11-point drop from June. Meanwhile, a new Florida poll, conducted by Magellan Strategies, reported this week that Obama appears to be tanking among Hispanics in the Sunshine State, to the point where he’s currently being waxed by the likes of Michele Bachmann. Currently, 72 percent of Florida Hispanic voters told the pollster that Obama doesn’t deserve re-election – a stark reversal of sentiment from ’08, when Obama won 57 percent of Florida Hispanic voters, an historic achievement for a Democrat in a state where most Hispanics (led by Cuban-Americans) have typically voted GOP.Again, these are only freeze-frame moments. Hispanics, like all other Americans, aren’t compelled right now to make voting decisions; with the election 15 months out, they’re free to merely vent their frustrations. But, for Obama, the Hispanic disenchantment is sign of serious trouble. Obama’s failure to deliver immigration reform is obviously a sticking point, but the economy is clearly the main factor. Statistics suggest that Hispanics in general have been hit harder by the recession than most other Americans. A Pew Foundation study, drawing on Census Bureau figures, concluded last month that Hispanic families suffered the largest single decline in median income between 2005 and 2009; while most of that decline occurred on George W. Bush’s watch, it obviously has not been reversed under a president who staked his ’08 candidacy on helping the underdogs.This doesn’t necessarily mean that most Hispanics are poised to flock to the Republican ticket in 2012. That scenario doesn’t pass the most basic laugh test. (Nor would it. An Hispanic majority has backed the Democratic ticket in every presidential election since at least 1964.)As evidenced by the most recent Republican presidential debate, the GOP’s basic message to Hispanics is, “Seal the border.” And as evidenced by the congressional Republicans’ brinkmanship in the recent debt-ceiling showdown, their basic priority is to slash the safety net programs that help Hispanic families. Indeed, the same 21-state poll that tallied Obama’s 38 percent re-election rating also reported strong Hispanic opposition to safety net cuts; in other words, Obama is losing ground with Hispanics not because they like Republicans more, but because many believe that he caved to Republicans in the debt-ceiling deal.No, Republicans have little to offer most Hispanics. There will be no mass conversion to the GOP. But there doesn’t have to be. To imperil Obama on election day, all they have to do is stay home.Abramowitz, the aforementioned political analyst, plausibly believes that the election will be very close, that the results could hinge on a handful of states. He lists seven toss-ups; three of them are Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. Obama probably can’t win those states again unless supportive Hispanics turn out en masse again. (And, thanks to population increases, Florida and Nevada will be worth three more electoral votes in 2012.)To grasp the importance of Hispanics in 2008, check out this post-election study by a Democratic think tank: “In Colorado, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 12.4 percent of the electorate, while Obama only won by 7 percent. In Florida, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 7.9 percent of the electorate, while Obama only won by 2 percent. In Nevada, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 12.4 percent of the electorate, while Obama only won by 12 percent.”Can Obama come close to replicating that support next year? His tenure may well depend on it.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal