A message from Fi2W’s Executive Producer
Engaging voters who think the presidential election “is a joke.”
By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Since the Obama Administration took office, immigration reform has seemed to go forward in fits and starts. The White House’s cautious approach has led pro-immigration advocates to cherish every bit of reassuring news they can find.
One source for this type of news has been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), who late last year started speaking in favor of reforming the nation’s immigration laws. Last Thursday, at a time when the nation’s pundits were preoccupied with several other topics, Reid raised the issue once more: he said comprehensive immigration reform is “going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible,” according to The Washington Post.
The Post‘s Ben Pershing added that Reid called immigration reform “one of his three top priorities this year, along with health care and energy.”
Diego Graglia, FI2W blog editor
Latin American immigrants became an important segment of the American electorate in this election, representing forty percent of the overall Hispanic vote, according to data released this afternoon by pro-immigrant organization America’s Voice.
Initial estimates indicate that about 10 million Hispanics voted in this election, maintaining their 8 percent share of the national electorate in a year in which more Americans voted than in previous contests. While the percentage was the same, the size of the Hispanic electorate increased considerably from the 7.6 million Latinos who cast their votes in 2004 and the almost six million who did so in 2000.
Mexicans, Dominicans, and immigrants from Central and South American countries “voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama for president,” according to pollster Sergio Bendixen, whose firm Bendixen and Associates conducted exit polls among Latino voters in Los Angeles and Miami. Bendixen said 78 percent of Latin American immigrant voters chose the Democratic candidate and 22 percent supported Republican John McCain.
Support for Obama was lower –61 percent– among U.S. born Hispanics, who were 50 percent of all Hispanic voters.
The remaining 10 percent of the Hispanic electorate is composed of two groups of non-immigrant Latinos: Cuban refugees and Puerto Rican U.S. citizens. While Puerto Ricans split 77 to 23 percent in favor of Obama, Bendixen reported, Cubans were the only subgroup to prefer John McCain, by a margin of 69 to 31 percent.
“Thirty-two percent of all Latin American immigrants who voted (in this election) were first-time voters,” Bendixen said today during a conference call with national media.
“There is no doubt that the immigration issue played a very important part in getting them involved in this presidential contest,” Bendixen added, indicating that the recent divisive immigration reform debate may well have energized many Latinos to vote this year, and helped Obama win the Presidency.
“Obamanos,” Latino Support for Obama in Espanola, N.M.
NPR PHOTO by Ben Bergman/Morning Edition
With the presidential race increasingly focused on states where Latinos are a big chunk of the electorate, the latest survey released by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) shows there are still significant numbers of Latinos who are undecided in those key states. [You can download the report in pdf here.]
The survey included registered voters in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada. According to NALEO, Latinos in those states may vote “in unprecedented numbers”: nearly ninety percent of Latino registered voters are almost certain they will vote on Nov. 4.[Both campaigns are releasing their Spanish-language ads mostly in these states, while Latinos in other regions of the country don’t receive as much attention. As I reported recently in a story in the New York Daily News, Latinos in other states are not so highly energized about voting this year.]
Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the NALEO Educational Fund, said in a press release:
In key battleground states, Latino voters are ready to vote in huge numbers, and a significant percentage is still persuadable. Underestimating the Latino vote could be disastrous for either party.
The top priority for most of the voters surveyed by NALEO is the economy. “The severe downturn in the housing and mortgage sector is likely to impact many Latinos,” the study says. Other issues of importance are the war in Iraq, health care and immigration reform. This represents little change from earlier polls, which had shown -even before “bailout” was in our daily lexicon- Latinos’ top issue was the economic downturn.
Looking at undecided Latino voters state by state, here’s what’s up:
–The West is blue. Barack Obama enjoys strong support from Hispanics in Colorado (63% to John McCain’s 15%), New Mexico (61% to 20%) and Nevada (55% to 14%).
–Florida is another story. “In Florida,” NALEO says, “the battle for the Latino vote is nearly a statistical tie at 38% for McCain and 35% for Obama.”
–Still… Voters who remain undecided or “only indicate not so strong support” for a candidate are: one in five in Colorado and New Mexico; one in four in Florida; and nearly one in three in Nevada. [NPR says Obama’s campaign is putting a “major focus” on New Mexico.]
The numbers would seem to provide a glimmer of hope for John McCain, except when compared to President George W. Bush’s historic (for a Republican) 40% performance among Hispanic voters in 2004.
This is how Sam Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a prominent supporter of George W. Bush in 2004, explained it to Politico‘s Ben Smith,
“I feel bad for McCain. We find ourselves between the proverbial rock and the hard place. We really like John McCain. We really don’t like the Republican Party.”
In this year’s historic elections Latinos are poised to play a historic role. If Latinos vote in the precedent-setting numbers that marked their participation in the presidential primaries, they could be responsible for putting a candidate in office.
When Sen. Hillary Clinton exited the race in June, the support that she had among this voting block appeared up for grabs. Both campaigns released Spanish language ads and Sen. John McCain even traveled to Mexico and Colombia to appeal to Hispanic voters. Demographic profiles showed that Latinos could help decide who would win key battleground states like New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
But despite the hype, perhaps Latino votes aren’t really that swing-able? Ever since Clinton’s departure, polls have shown Latinos steadily moving to support Obama. A recent Gallup Poll appears to confirm this trend, showing Latinos backing Obama 59% to 29% over McCain. The poll concludes that Latino support enjoyed by Clinton appears to have shifted to Obama.
The shift in poll numbers raise the question: Is this group really as elastic as the political narrative has suggested?