Latinos Embrace Obama

Some commentators have suggested that Latinos will call the November presidential election. Others have suggested that race—an antipathy between blacks and Latinos that in the past caused them to choose a white candidate over a black one—would not bode well for the mixed-race Senator Barack Obama. And some Democrat-watchers asked whether those Latinos who favored Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary by 2 to 1 would transfer their allegiance to Obama if he were to win the nomination.

I explained in a recent America article, and in a podcast on the same topic, that on these issues, time would tell. In the podcast, I also quoted two of the latest polls available at that time, both of which showed Obama to be favored by Latinos over the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. Polls are said to be a mere snapshot, taken at a particular moment in time, nothing more. Yet frequent polling does provide something more: with frequency, polls can begin to trace a pattern.

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Both Obama and McCain, meanwhile, have stepped up their appeals to Latino voters. Both men have run expensive media campaigns. Both have appeared before La Raza. The effect?

Today, the Pew Hispanic Center released the results of its latest national survey, which shows that registered Hispanic voters favor Obama over McCain by  3 to 1 (66 percent to 23 percent). That’s higher than earlier polls.

It also confirms that Latinos continue to move toward the Democrats in general. A previous study by PEW Research had put at 59 percent the Latinos who were firmly for or leaned toward the Democrats. Now that percentage has risen by 6 percent (to 65 percent), leaving just 26 percent of Latinos supporting or leaning toward the Republicans. The change is notable.

Two possible reasons for the Latino support of Obama are indicated by the survey results. First, the war in Iraq and immigration are not as important to Latinos as they were previously. Latino registered voters ranked both the war in Iraq and immigration behind a list of other concerns, namely: education, the cost of living, jobs and health care, and crime. This may have adversely affected McCain, whose position on the Iraq war and on immigration are, arguably, two of the best cards he has to play. The second reason regards race, which, according to this survey is not an impediment for Latino voters: 53 percent of respondents said Obama’s “race would make no difference to Latino voters” and 32 percent indicated that “his being black would help Obama.” If this poll is right, then the pundits who thought race would be a negative factor were wrong.

Today’s survey results also show that Obama is doing very well among the Latinos who formerly supported Hillary Clinton; he has more than 75 percent of their vote. That means he is doing better among her former Latino-supporters than he is doing among her non-Hispanic white supporters (mostly women over age 40 and blue-collar men). Identifying that white vote is something both McCain and Obama will want to consider well, since it seems to be up for grabs right now.

The Latino support is good news for Obama. But remember, the conventions are still to come, and the country has more than three months of campaigning left before election day. More important than any overall national tally, however, is what actually takes place on election day and where. Will Latinos vote? What matters is winning enough votes in each state to get the electoral vote. Huge populations of Latino votes in predictably Democratic states add to the popular vote tally, but little on the electoral scale. States with large numbers of electors are important. So are the “swing states,” which is where Latinos, and other bloc voters, will ultimately leverage their power.

Karen Sue Smith

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