POLITICS

Puerto Ricans' critical vote in Florida would overwhelmingly go to Clinton, poll shows

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 27:  Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder holds a Puerto Rican flag as she directs a question to Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich after he was endorsed by the National Hispanic Leadership Network at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa on January 27, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Gingrich is campaigning ahead of Florida's January 31, primary.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 27: Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder holds a Puerto Rican flag as she directs a question to Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich after he was endorsed by the National Hispanic Leadership Network at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa on January 27, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Gingrich is campaigning ahead of Florida's January 31, primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

Florida’s Puerto Rican voters, viewed as a force that could make a difference in the battleground state on Nov. 8, are overwhelming supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a new poll shows.

If the election were held now, the poll shows, 74 percent of Puerto Ricans would vote for Clinton – leaps and bounds over the 17 percent who favor her GOP challenger, Donald Trump.

The poll, released Wednesday afternoon by Latino Decisions and the Center for American Progress, also showed that 68 percent of Puerto Ricans in Florida have a favorable view of Clinton, compared with 15 percent who have one of Trump.

Puerto Ricans have settled in the state at a rate of about 1,000 a month since the economic crisis hit the island in 2013. The poll surveyed 504 registered Puerto Rican voters currently living in the state.

Political strategists say that Trump must win Florida in order to win the White House. And some say that winning Florida means winning the central part of the state, where Puerto Ricans increasingly are dominating in numbers and influence.

Others disagree, saying that if Trump can win enough support from white Florida voters, he doesn’t need to win many votes from Latinos.

Puerto Ricans now comprise at least 30 percent of the state’s Latino registered voters. They are mostly Democrats but there are also some conservatives.

While they voted mainly for President Barack Obama in the last two elections, they also voted for Republican Charlie Crist in Florida’s 2006 gubernatorial race. Years later, Crist switched his political party to Democrat.

Clinton’s level of support among Puerto Ricans in Florida (74 percent) marks an increase over the 69 percent of Puerto Ricans nationwide who said in an August poll by Fox News Latino that they would vote for her. Trump’s share of support among Puerto Ricans in the Sunshine State and nationwide remains tied, with 17 percent in both instances saying they would vote for him.

The Fox News Latino poll over the summer showed that of all Latino subgroups, Puerto Ricans had the strongest support for Clinton.

Respondents in the newly released survey also favored 56-to-25 percent seeing Puerto Rico become the 51st state, versus it remaining commonwealth.

As for a candidate’s views on the statehood issue, 55 percent said it was “very important when deciding who I will support,” and 23 percent it was “somewhat important.” The rest said it is not very important or completely irrelevant to their decision.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.