The Latino Vote: Can Democrats Lock It Up For A Generation?

One aspect of the 2008 election outcome that will likely have real long-term consequences for the nation's political alignment is the emergence of t

One aspect of the 2008 election outcome that will likely have real long-term consequences for the nation's political alignment is the emergence of the power of the Latino vote.

It's looking increasingly as though Latinos have moved semi-permanently into the Democrats' column, in large part because the Republican brand has been semi-permanently tainted with the ugly nativist bigotry that has immersed movement conservatism. It certainly played a significant role in the voters' repudiation of all things conservative.

Andres Ramirez at NDN Blog likewise pored over the numbers and found, among other things:

Hispanics Improved The Margin of Victory in These Four States - In Colorado, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 7.9% of the electorate, while Obama won by 9%. In Florida, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 7.9% of the electorate, while Obama won by 3%. In Nevada, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 11.4% of the electorate, while Obama won by 12%. In New Mexico, Obama’s Hispanic support accounted for 28.3% of the electorate, while Obama won by 15%.

If These Trends Continue, the National Map Will Continue to Get Harder for Republicans – Of the nine states that flipped from Bush 2004 to Obama 2008, four were heavily Latino states. Just as Pete Wilson’s taking on Hispanics in the 1990s contributed to the transformation of California, home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, from a swing to the bluest of blue states, the demonization of Hispanics by the national GOP is turning very critical battleground states much more blue.

A recent study by America's Voice looks at how 19 out of 21 pro-reform candidates beat nativist hard-liners in key battleground contests around the country:

Here's the essence: swing voters chose candidates that stood up for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform than their hard-line opponents. Latino voters turned out in record numbers and voted down the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican Party. Their participation in the 2008 elections contributed to Senator Obama's wins in key battleground states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida, and also helped Democrats win contested House and Senate races in these states and beyond.

Meanwhile, the anti-immigrant forces that have all but hijacked the Republican Party proved to be inconsequential at best, except for their role in potentially driving the GOP into the political wilderness with Latino and New American voters.

Even Sen. Mel Martinez, the Florida Republican who watched his state turn blue this election under the tide of Democratic-voting Latinos, understands that the party is screwed. He as much as said so on Meet the Press:

The fact of the matter is that Hispanics are going to be a more and more vibrant part of the electorate, and the Republican Party had better figure out how to talk to them. We had a very dramatic shift between what President Bush was able to do with Hispanic voters, where he won 44 percent of them, and what happened to Senator McCain. Senator McCain did not deserve what he got. He was one of those that valiantly fought, fought for immigration reform, but there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we're going to be relegated to minority status.

Simon Rosenberg observes:

[T]he way the Republicans [have] handled the immigration issue -- by demonizing Hispanics -- was one of the biggest political mistakes made by a political party in the last 50 years of American politics. As Peter Wallsten writes in the LA Times today, this failure with Hispanics may have cost them 4 prominent states in this election, but may cost them Arizona and Texas in the coming years. If that comes about it is game over, lights out for the GOP in the Electoral College for a very long time.

It's also apparent, from these results and from polling, that the nativists' "deport them all" immigration policy is wildly unpopular -- and that, moreover, Americans in fact take a pragmatic view of immigration: They're not interested in shipping out illegal immigrants, they're interested in seeing them become legal citizens.

Yesterday America's Voice released a study of these results in combination with their own polling inside key swing districts (PowerPoint file here). It found, among other things:

71% of Latino voters in our sample favor 'a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants,' but the support is broad across the American electorate, not among Latinos. In the following swing districts: VA-11, AZ-1, AZ-5, NM-1, WA-8, CO-4, IL-14, NV-3, PA-11; 67% of swing voters favor a pathway (CIR). This matched the 67% of a nationwide sample who favor CIR (when they are required to pay a fine and learn English).

Path to Citizenship_ae87e.JPG

What this polling makes clear is that the progressive solution to immigration, once again, is the sensible solution -- and it's one that Obama can pursue with the knowledge he has the public fully behind him.

Best of all, it is a certain path to keeping the Republican Party and the toxic politics it has practiced the past four decades on the margins of our political discourse. Until they learn their lessons about coddling racists and bigots, they deserve to remain there.

About David Neiwert

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