The election is only two weeks away. You can expect the national polls to get a little tighter as we get closer to election day and undecided voters make their decision. Political theorists have different theories about how late deciding voters will break, but the truth is that most times, most people vote the way they did last time. This bodes well for McCain.
What doesn’t bode well for McCain is that the percentage of voters who are undecided or leaning his way is less than 50 percent. Put differently, nationally and in most of the key swing states, Obama has crossed the 50% threshold. So, even if his five-to-seven point lead dwindles to a three point lead, he still wins if the election ends up 51% to 48%.
Obama’s strength in the polls is the result of a couple of key swing constituencies turning blue this year. Two recent polls by the organization Faith in Public Life focused showed Obama winning the support of young Catholics and Hispanic evangelicals by decisive margins. Older Catholics (age 35 and up) divide evenly between McCain (46%) and Obama (44%) but Catholics aged 18-35 broke for Obama by a margin of 55% to 40%. In states with large concentrations of Catholic voters, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, this emerging generational divide could make the difference.
The second poll looked at the opinions of Hispanic evangelicals. This is a group that broke overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2004, 63 % to John Kerry’s 37%. This year, however, the poll showed Obama garnering 50% of the Hispanic evangelical vote to McCain’s 34%. Latino evangelicals are only a third of the total Hispanic vote, and they lag slightly behind their Catholic brethren in support for Obama. But, Bush won 44% of the total Latino vote in 2004 and McCain will be lucky to win a third. This swing among Hispanic voters is critical to Obama’s apparent lead in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.
The reasons for the switch among young Catholics are many and varied but the change in Latino evangelical voting is directly related to the GOP’s anti-immigrant posture. Not only do Latinos overwhelmingly support humane immigration reform, but 77% of Latino evangelicals link their views on immigration to their religious beliefs. In short, the GOP’s careful cultivation of the "party of religion" label is unconvincing to Latinos who have read in Leviticus that we are called to welcome the stranger. These voters remain suspicious of the Democrats: Obama has not addressed the immigration issue in the direct, values-laden way these voters see it. But, they know that McCain backtracked from his previous support for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in his effort to win the GOP nomination. He threw them, and their families under the bus.
Immigration is a different kind of political issue from debates over the federal budget deficit or the environment. The impact is direct and immediate on a distinct portion of the electorate. If the Democrats embrace humane immigration reform, they will win the political loyalty of Latinos for a generation or more. That could put Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in the Democratic camp for a long time and the GOP will have to find a different route to that magical number of 270 electoral votes.
Michael Sean Winters