WASHINGTON Strong support from Hispanics, the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, helped tip President Barack Obama's fortunes as he secured a second term in the White House.
Obama's support among Hispanics was about 66 percent, according to Reuters/Ipsos election day polling, roughly in line with the percentage that voted for him four years ago.
It was critical for Obama to retain the coveted voting bloc, especially because he lost support among white men, said Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington who has tracked Hispanic sentiment for months.
Obama saw his support among white men decline to 36 percent in this election from 41 percent in 2008.
Obama made a strong effort to court the estimated 24 million eligible Hispanic voters, seeking to overcome some discontent over his immigration policies.
In September, Obama said his "biggest failure" was the lack of comprehensive immigration reform, although his administration launched a program in June to allow young undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary work permits.
"We saw Obama's standing among Hispanics and overall voter enthusiasm increase after his announcement this summer," Barreto said.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican challenger, had taken a hard line, saying illegal immigrants should leave the country, or "self-deport," before making a bid for citizenship.
The Obama campaign sought Hispanics in key swing states, according to poll data, with a quarter of those voters in Florida saying they were contacted by his representatives.
Hispanics account for more than half of U.S. population growth, according to 2010 census data. The Hispanic population in the South, a Republican base, grew by 57 percent between 2000 and 2010 - four times the overall population growth of that region.
In Texas, the Obama ticket only drew 40 percent of all votes but won 57 percent of Hispanics.
Those results and demographic trends are one reason that Republican leaders like Florida Senator Marco Rubio have urged the party to get behind immigration reform.
But Obama's victory puts the immigration agenda in his hands. Notably, when Obama ticked off his top bipartisan priorities in his victory speech early Wednesday morning, "fixing our immigration system" was among them.
(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Jim Loney)