During this year’s Democratic primaries, Latinos voted nearly two-to-one for Sen. Hillary Clinton, fueling speculation that they weren’t going to vote for a Black candidate. However, a new Pew Hispanic Center survey now says that over three-fourths (77 percent) of Latinos who voted for Clinton will now vote for Sen. Barack Obama, who will officially become the Democratic presidential nominee this month.
In the Pew study, 55 percent said they believe Obama is better for Hispanics, while only 11 percent felt that Republican candidate John McCain is better. Furthermore, over half of the Latinos also believe that Obama would be better as president than McCain on such issues as education (66 percent to 18 percent), jobs (65 percent to 19 percent), health care (64 percent to 19 percent), crime (50 percent to 26 percent), and the war in Iraq (58 percent to 27 percent).
The Pew survey also reported that Hispanic voters increasingly identify with the Democratic Party — 65 percent of registered voters say they are Democrats or lean toward the party, as opposed to only 26 percent who prefer Republicans. In 2004, President George W. Bush got 40 percent of the Latino vote, a record for GOP presidential candidates, the Pew report points out.
Why did so many Latinos prefer Clinton over Obama in the primaries?
“There was a trust already with the Clintons,” says Rogelio Munoz, director of Minnesota’s non-partisan Chicano Latino Affairs Council. “There was a lot of economic prosperity under the Bill Clinton administration, and they [Latinos] needed someone to bring that back.”
“I don’t think…now that the polls show that Latinos are going for Barack that we can skip as quickly over what happened back [in the primaries] versus Hillary,” noted author Leon Wynter during the July 25 panel discussion on Black-Latino political relations at the UNITY ’08 journalists of color convention at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
Comprising about 15 percent of the U.S. population but only nine percent of eligible voters, Hispanics are one of the most sought-after voting groups in the 2008 election, the Pew survey observes. Yet, mainstream media have virtually ignored Latinos in any presidential campaign discussion, said UNITY panelist and New America Media writer Roberto Lovato. “Latinos are voting 79 percent Democratic in the primaries, but can’t find a single story on Lou Dobbs and other [CNN] shows,” he points out.
Wynter suggested that the Latino vote has become more important than Blacks’ in major elections. “We see the Latino population is growing with clout and importance, the swing vote and a number of other things, without necessarily throwing up their own Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton,” the author said. “The Latino-Hispanic America has moved into the American mainstream at an exceedingly rapid rate.”
However, another UNITY panelist, Pedro Noguera of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, stressed that Latinos’ votes for Clinton did not mean that they were anti-Black: “That is a very superficial analysis of what was happening.”
La Opinion senior political writer Pilar Marrero, also on the UNITY panel, covered the Democratic primaries. She recalled a friend telling her early on that Obama had no shot at the Latino vote. “[Then] you saw 80 percent of Blacks voting for Obama, and 80 percent of Latinos voting for Clinton, so the numbers were supporting this,” she said.
Is there now a rift between Blacks and Latinos? Marrero said the primary numbers lend some truth to this: “There are Latinos who are racist [toward Blacks], and there are African Americans who are racist or prejudiced toward Latinos. But I don’t think that is the majority of Latinos. I do think there is a certain ignorance among certain segments of Latinos in the community because we don’t do a good enough job in introducing these communities to each other.”
Despite the Pew study, mainstream media still report that Latinos primarily favor McCain, said Wynter, pointing to a recent NPR report on “Latinas for McCain.”
“These aren’t Mexicans who just arrived from Mexico a while ago, but first- and second-generation Latinos,” he said of the story. “It was so clear [from the reported story] that they weren’t for McCain [but] they were against Obama.”
But McCain has history in dealing with Latino issues, such as immigration, notes Munoz: “He has been in the Senate a lot longer than Obama has.”
Blacks and Latinos, nonetheless, do share many common interests, Noguera pointed out. “The state of schools, the economy, the war — those issues do cut across differences,” he said. And, if the Pew report is correct and Latinos vote their party preferences, their choice of Clinton over Obama in the primaries really won’t matter, as they will support the Democratic presidential nominee this fall by nearly 40 percentage points.
Munoz predicts that Latinos will indeed make a difference in this year’s presidential election, especially in the Southwest, California and Florida.
“[The Latino vote] is definitely something that both candidates will court,” he concludes.
The entire 2008 National Survey of Latinos can be read on www.pewhispanic.org.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.