President Barack Obama's approval rating among Hispanics has fallen below 50 percent just 14 months before the 2012 elections -- when the votes of the country's largest minority will be decisive.

While 68 percent of Latinos in 2008 supported Obama due to his promises to bring "hope" and "change," three years later just 48 percent approve of his job performance, according to the latest surveys.

Amid events to mark Hispanic Heritage month, the unfulfilled promise of immigration reform has eroded confidence in Obama in a community that has suffered greatly in the recession.

The discontent among Latinos with the Democratic administration is alarming for a party that knows that retaining the support of this group is key to winning the states of California, New Mexico and Texas, where at least one in every five voters will be Latinos in 2012.

The 2010 Census verified the importance and influence that Latino voters will have in the next elections, with that group now exceeding 50 million and amounting to 16 percent of the country's more than 308 million residents.

Next year could see record levels of participation among Latino voters, both due to their population growth as well as because of the voter registration campaigns being undertaken by pro-immigrant groups, Evan Bacalao, director of Civic Engagement with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, told Efe.

With surveys showing that Latinos are feeling ever more distant from other Democrats, the question that arises is what percentage of their votes that are not cast for Obama will swing over to the Republicans, many of whom are pursuing a discourse that is markedly anti-immigrant.

The most recent surveys reveal that, despite the broad Hispanic majority that supported the Democrats in 2008, today just 39 percent of Latinos say that they will back the president next year.

Hispanic organizations warn that Obama has an arduous task ahead of him if he wants to convince the majority of Latinos to vote for him again.

These groups say that, if Obama does not manage to recover the confidence of Hispanics and the Republicans keep up their anti-immigrant rhetoric, a substantial number of Latino voters will stay home on election day.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate among Hispanics is 11.3 percent, substantially above the national average of 9.1 percent.

One of the groups hardest hit by the recession are young Hispanics, among whom the unemployment rate is 19.3 percent.

Thus, the disappointment that the Hispanic community is feeling with Democratic policies is not based solely on the failed promises for immigration reform but also on the economic uncertainty that has made itself felt very strongly among the country's minorities.

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