Bernd Debusmann

Will Latinos decide America’s elections?

By Bernd Debusmann
April 7, 2012

Every day, around 1,600 U.S. citizens of Latin American extraction are turning 18, voting age, and add to the fastest-growing segment of the American electorate. Almost 22 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November and how many of them turn out may well decide who will be the next U.S. president.

A series of recent polls show that Latinos favor President Barack Obama over any of the Republican presidential hopefuls, with a comfortable 70 percent to 14 percent over Mitt Romney, the man most likely to win the Republican nomination at the end of a primary campaign marked by often shrill anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Obama is so confident that he primary debates have driven Latinos away from the Republican party that  he told the Spanish-language television network Univision last November there was no need for his campaign to run negative ads on the Republican presidential hopefuls. Instead, “we may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim. We won’t even comment on them…and people can make up their own minds.”

Among debate highlights that stick in the collective memory was the electrified Mexican-U.S. border fence suggested by Herman Cain, who soon after dropped out of the race, and Mitt Romney’s idea that illegal immigrants would chose “self-deportation…because they can’t find work here, because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.” Newt Gingrich, who is still in the primary contest but whose star is fading, described self-deportation as a fantasy.

The president’s confidence of winning Latino support again – he took 67 percent of their vote in 2008 — is partly based on history: Republicans have lost the Latino vote in every presidential election since 1972. But it would be a mistake for Obama to take that support for granted, not least because he broke an election campaign promise to produce a bill on immigration reform in his first year in office.

This prompted Jorge Ramos, the influential Univision anchor to whom he made the promise in 2008, to write in an essay in Time magazine last month that Latinos faced the difficult choice on November 6 “of voting for either a president who broke a major promise or a Republican candidate who doesn’t respect us.”

If enough Latinos find that choice so difficult that they will sit out the vote, Obama’s confidence may prove mistaken. To hear electoral number crunchers tell it, an Obama victory could hinge on Latin turnout and support in swing states where no candidate can be certain of getting the most votes. These states include Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.


Ruy Texeira, an election expert and demographer at the liberal Center For American Progress Action Fund, points out that while the Latino support tracked by opinion polls points to Obama  winning  the popular vote, that doesn’t always translate into electoral victory. The presidential elections of 2000, decided after a bitter controversy over Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes, are a case in point.

While immigration, for decades a hot-button issue in the United States, has dominated the debate,  it does not top the list of Latino concerns. Surveys show that like other Americans, Latinos care most about jobs, the economy, education and health care. Immigration ranks fifth.

Latino voters don’t have direct immigration problems – they are citizens. But, as Jorge Ramos says in his essay,  “the issues concerning undocumented immigrants are very, very personal. If you attack them, you attack all of us. They are our neighbors and co-workers; their kids go to school with our kids: they serve in battle next to our sons: they take the jobs no one else wants; they pay taxes and overwhelmingly make America a better country.”

Those who attack illegal immigrants are not restricted to Republican presidential hopefuls. Since Obama took office, his administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in history – an average of  around 400,000 a year. The deportations have resulted in the separation of thousands of parents from children who were born in the U.S. and thus are citizens.

In a campaign twist that carries a whiff of desperation, Romney has begun to try and turn Obama’s record on immigration against him. “He campaigned saying he was going to reform immigration laws and simplify and protect the border,” the Republican front-runner said early in April, “and then he had two years with a Democrat House and a Democrat Senate and a super majority in each house, and he did nothing.”

“So let the immigrant community not forget that while he uses this as a political weapon, he does not take responsibility for fixing the problems we have.”

This comes from a candidate whose party stalled attempts at immigration reform both under George W. Bush and Obama. Whether his argument sways enough Latinos to make a difference in November remains to be seen.

11 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Except in states where you have to show identification. Oh wait, can’t ask someone for ID to vote. That would be terrible. How else would the democrats stay in office. Cannot get a welfare king / queen off the sofa to work or to get proper ID but, they can get to the voting booth.

Posted by mutt3003 | Report as abusive

“…they pay taxes and overwhelmingly make America a better country.”

What a Crock of El Crappo….!!!–ILLEGALS Do Not pay taxes Except for sales tax…Big Woooo!!!–If there is withholding tax then it is Only because that ILLEGAL has committed ID Fraud & Stolen a Citizens SSI…!!!–The ILLEGAL, on the other hand Does apply for & get the ‘Child Tax Credit’ to the tune of $4.8 BILLION Stolen from the American Taxpayer….!!!–So for this ‘advocate’ to get up & say that these THIEVES pay taxes IS a LIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by robinked | Report as abusive

Obama can only address so many issues at a time, and this is one that divides many. Immigration needs reform, and i think we all agree with that. One thing that wasn’t mentioned here is that Obama is the first President to look at how we treat others who come here and out-stay their welcome. In prior years, someone who was no longer authorized to be here was rounded up and thrown into jail with hard-core criminals. Many of these folks (immigrants) are simply looking for a way to provide a better life for themselves that is not available at home. After seeing the horrid conditions these folks were put into, and after several highly preventable deaths for not giving these people basic medical treatment, Obama stepped up to create “civil” detention centers instead of throwing everybody in prison. Which of course is the U.S. preferred method of solving problems. Afterall, based on prior results, everyone knows these folks come out of prison better off right? We all know that answer. At any rate, the Republicans can count on right wing evangelical hypocrites, and ultra-rich cronies but beyond this, they’re ruined their chances once again to show people they’re “one of us”. Folks just aren’t buying it. I might vote for Romney though if he’d let me stay in his 12 million dollar beach house………not!

Posted by schmetterling | Report as abusive

“Almost 22 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November and how many of them turn out may well decide who will be the next U.S. president.”

They won’t decide this election. The blue collar workers who used to vote Democratic will turn the tide in November.

Posted by wigglwagon | Report as abusive

“Almost 22 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November and how many of them turn out may well decide who will be the next U.S. president.”

They won’t decide this election. The blue collar workers who used to vote Democratic will turn the tide in November.

Posted by wigglwagon | Report as abusive

“Almost 22 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November and how many of them turn out may well decide who will be the next U.S. president.”

They won’t decide this election. The blue collar workers who used to vote Democratic will turn the tide in November.

Posted by wigglwagon | Report as abusive

I’m not voting for Romney, not a chance. It’s going to be “better the devil you know, than the one you don’t” for me.

Would’ve voted for Ron Paul though, if he were to be chose for president. Of course, if he runs third party, that would be great.

Posted by KingStop | Report as abusive

I will vote Ron Paul if he runs independent. If not I will probably vote Libertarian. My days of Republican vs Democrat are over. We need better party options desperately.

Posted by UnPartisan | Report as abusive

Don’t get your trendy, deep-thinker turtle neck in a knot Berndi, any of the 30 million illegals in this country that manage to vote will go Democrat, so you can wipe that determined look off your self-important face.

Posted by Peteo | Report as abusive

Peteo: What’s your source for the 30 million illegals? The consensus figure — census, Pew, etc — is 11 to 12. Where did you find the other 19 million? And what is the process for undocumented immigrants to vote? Aren’t there such things as voter rolls?

Posted by BDebusmann | Report as abusive

I used to get all frothing at the mouth re: illegal aliens. But now I sort of resign myself to the fact that Wash DC does not care, Obama does not care if we are invaded. I have a very good mechanic/tire guy who is from Mexico, I do not care to know if he is illegal or not. He works fast, does not cheat me etc is cheaper than Pep Boys. Ditto for my sister’s gardener ( I cut my own grass), my mom’s pool guy etc. Mexicans work hard, do not cheat you usually. I would like to see a Legal Way for immigrants to come here. My wife is from Germany. She came here the proper way, (married me, I was her sponsor, she is not a burden to society, we do not get food stamps, or any govt help.) I had to jump thru hoops to get the legal paperwork so she could legally get on a plane or train or rickshaw to the USA. The fiancee visa in process forbade her from getting out of Germany except for Sound of Music style hiking over the Alps.

Posted by hydrographer | Report as abusive

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