Saturday, October 11, 2008

Latinos Swing Hard for Obama and the Democrats

Let us now put to rest the nasty canard that Latinos will not vote for a black candidate. This election season, Democratic Presidential candidate, Barak Obama, stands to gain several Western states on the strength of the Latino vote. Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and perhaps Arizona are all in play for Obama. Never mind that the Latino vote in the state of California forms a Democratic firewall guaranteeing a Blue status to this very large state. Despite some rank racist statements by various Hispanic Republican leaders, the Latino community is strongly behind the African-American Democratic candidate and come election day the overwhelming majority will be punching the Democratic ticket.

I do not want to discount the fact of racism in the Latino community anymore than I would in the Anglo community. But anti-black sentiment is no more pronounced in the Hispanic community than it is in the larger majoritarian community. Whatsmore, Latinos have come to see their interests as largely consistent with those of the African-American community. Like African-Americans, Latinos feel that their ethnicity and national origin are keeping them from getting jobs and that receive unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. As well, the heavy handed tactics of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) have cast a siege mentality amongst Latinos.

Polls have consistently demonstrated overwhelming support of Latinos for Barack Obama. The media narrative going into the presidential election posited that Latinos would split their vote for John McCain, who had sponsored legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. As McCain backed away from his prior stance, and embraced the pro-enforcement policies of the Bush administration, Latinos saw little reason to back a Republican candidate who towed the Bush Party line. This was all the more evident when one considers the demoralizing effect that the harsh ICE enforcement tactics of the Bush administration were and are having on the Latino community. As articulated by the Pew Hispanic Center:

Half (50%) of all Latinos say that the situation of Latinos in this country is worse now than it was a year ago, according to a new nationwide survey of 2,015 Hispanic adults conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.

This pessimism is especially prevalent among immigrants, who account for 54% of all Hispanic adults in the United States. Fully 63% of these Latino immigrants say that the situation of Latinos has worsened over the past year. In 2007, just 42% of all adult Hispanic immigrants--and just 33% of all Hispanic adults--said the same thing.

Some Latinos are experiencing other difficulties because of their ethnicity. One-in-seven (15%) say that they have had trouble in the past year finding or keeping a job because they are Latino. One-in-ten (10%) report the same about finding or keeping housing.

Not surprisingly, worries about deportation and perceptions of discrimination in jobs or housing because of Hispanic ethnicity correlate with the view that Latinos' situation has worsened in the past year. Two-thirds (68%) of Latinos who worry a lot that they or someone close to them may be deported say that Latinos' situation in the country today is worse than it was a year ago, as do 63% of Latinos who have experienced job difficulties because of their ethnicity and 71% of Latinos who report housing difficulties because of their ethnicity.

Naturally, Latinos are very unhappy with the status quo, which translates to a toxic environment for Republican candidates (of any stripe). On a personal level, I live in an area with a heavy Latino population and the concerns set forth in the Pew survey are very real to this community. One Chilean friend who had a grocery store that catered to Latinos closed shop because he said fear of ICE and law enforcement in general was keeping many Latinos close to home. Fear of law enforcement is not confined to undocumented Latinos. There is now a pervasive fear of the police amongst Latinos, who are see the criminal justice system as discriminating against all Latinos.

I have heard many personal stories of people being accosted and treated rudely because they are Latino. The anger is palpable both as a community and on a personal level. And that anger is being translated into strong support for Barack Obama. Senator Obama, who is viewed as championing changes to the harsh immigration policies of the Bush administration, as well as shifting economic priorities, is clearly benefitting. Economic concerns play an important role in this allegiance. Although McCain’s inept campaign has not helped his cause amongst Latinos.

The choice of Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as McCain’s running mate did nothing for the presidential candidates standing in the Latino community. Unlike Texas governor, George Bush, who hails from a border state, Alaska has virtually no cross-border issues of significance for the Hispanic community. (Although a substantial percentage of the Alaska fishing work-force is now Latino.) And although a significant portion of the Latino community identifies itself as evangelical Christians, this alone is not significant to undo the political realignment brought about by the Bush Administration’s policies.

Eristic ragemail has previously written how Republican designs on the Hispanic vote were being undermined by a misguided and inept enforcement-only immigration policy. What I see now, is a wholesale shift away from the Republican Party in all its manifestations. Whatever conservative cultural factors may have once aligned a segment of the Latino community to the Republicans has given way to more pragmatic concerns. As with the larger community, it appears that Latinos are more strongly shifting their allegiance to the Democratic Party. This shift by Latinos to the Democratic Party is, in my estimation, permanent.

No comments: