In 2010, Sen. Harry Reid was engaged in a bitter battle with Sharron Angle. He was headed for a loss, polls said.
Despite polls showing him down about 3% on average, he won by 5.6%. The surprise was largely attributed to Latino voters being polled incorrectly. Nate Silver wrote about this after hearing from Matt Barreto, of Latino Decisions, a polling firm focused on the Latino vote.
Now with the 2014 midterm election looming, Barreto argues to BuzzFeed News that it's happening again, this time in Colorado where polls show Republican Rep. Cory Gardner leading Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
"Even if you give other polls the benefit of the doubt and assume the rest of their statewide numbers are correct — if you pull their Latino numbers out and put ours in — instead of Udall being down by 3, he's up 3 to 4," Barreto said.
While Barreto has been right before, a recent Denver Post poll showed Gardner not just winning the race, but leading among Latinos 49-35.
"There is absolutely no way that Cory Gardner will win the Latino vote in Colorado," Barreto said. "Obama won well over 80% of the Latino vote in 2012 and Gardner has been just awful on Latino issues, especially immigration issues. Our Colorado polling has very consistently shown Gardner way behind with Latino voters. The mainstream polls are just plain wrong in their Latino samples."
Latino Decisions says that mainstream polls fail in capturing the nuance of the Latino vote because many only poll in English, with small samples of Latinos somewhere in the 40-60 range, whereas they survey 400-600 bilingually. Cell-phone only, Spanish-speaking, lower socio-economic status Latinos are the most Democratic of all Latino voters, they argue, and are the most difficult and costly voters to include in a poll, according to a recent blog post. Polls in English, on the other hand, oversample higher income Latinos who are more likely to lean Republican, according to Barreto.
A recent Latino Decisions/NCLR Action Fund poll found that 66% of Latinos say they will or are likely to vote for Udall, while only 17% said they would definitely or are likely to vote for Gardner. But of those who were interviewed in Spanish, 76% said they will vote for or are likely to vote for Udall.
In a race that is considered a tossup, getting a big chunk of the electorate wrong matters. According to Latino Decisions, Colorado polls consistently underestimate the share of the electorate that is Latino, often putting it between 5% and 10%. "In comparison, the 2012 exit polls estimated that Latinos were 14% of the Colorado electorate and 12% in 2010," they wrote recently.
But critically, even among those who want Udall to win, many believe the Democrat's outreach to Latinos has been lackluster, only picking up recently.
"He's made the campaign mainly about women and hasn't done a very good job of connecting with and communicating to Latino immigrant voters," said veteran national immigration activist, Frank Sharry. "He's clearly better than Gardner on immigration, but he hasn't taken full advantage of it."
"He hasn't been as active as he should be in the community," one strategist with knowledge of Latino politics in the Southwest said.
Sharry said 40% of the Latino vote in Colorado are immigrants and their children, who are very concerned with immigration because it defines their family's future.
"He hasn't tried hard enough," said Matthew McClellan, executive director of the NCLR action fund, who commissioned the Colorado Senate poll with Latino Decisions. "There hasn't been enough genuine and substantial outreach to the Latino community during the midterms but it's not just him."
In terms of Latino outreach, Udall has been able to count on door-to-door canvassing from the SEIU union, including knocking on 2,000 doors a day, according to the organization, as well as $1 million in Spanish-language ads that knock Gardner for his stances on immigration, education, and opposition to raising the minimum wage — issues the union says matter to Latino voters.
Still, Udall has one big advantage: His stance on Obama's promised executive actions on immigration.
Jose Parra worked closely with the political director and ran Hispanic communications for Reid in Nevada in 2010. He said the tricky part about reaching Latinos in Colorado is that it's basically made up of two distinct Hispanic communities. There are those with deep roots in the state since the 1600s and others who arrived in the last 30 years and represent the Latino growth in the Denver area.
He, along with Barreto, pointed to Udall being one of the first senators to come out publicly in favor of President Obama's long-awaited administrative actions that would slow deportations of undocumented immigrants, as a plus for him.
"Outside of Senate leadership like Schumer, Durbin, and Menendez, he was one of the first rank-and-file senators to step out and call for executive actions in June, July. He was on the forefront of that," Parra told BuzzFeed News.
Because of Udall's position on the matter, he has been the beneficiary of get-out-the-vote efforts from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, because of anger at Gardner.
Parra and Barreto also acknowledged that turnout and voter excitement will likely not be as high as it was in 2010, and part of that is the way the race in particular has unfolded.
"It doesn't have the ugly rhetoric of 2010 — you can't cut a commercial of Sharron Angle saying Reid is the best friend an illegal alien ever had," Parra said, referencing one of Angle's controversial comments.
Barreto said a nationwide poll released Monday by Latino Decisions and America's Voice showed that Latino voter enthusiasm towards Democrats and Obama has dropped.
They found that immigration is now the top issue for Latinos ahead of the 2014 election, which is not always the case. The economy, education, and health care have previously been the top issues for Latinos.
The poll found that from June to October, during which Obama announced the delay of immigration executive actions, approval by Latinos of how Democrats and Obama were handling immigration policy fell 12%, respectively.
NCLR's McClellan lumped together pollsters and politicians in how they see the Latino community.
"There are always wildly inaccurate polls on Latino stances and positions, which is indicative of the larger problem of people not taking the time to understand the Latino community," he said. "This is what happens when you only pay attention to them for six weeks out of every two years."