Nationwide, a series of movements are taking force. Movements designed to spark the enthusiasm and wake up the voting spirit among the Latino Community. Organizations all over the country made public their efforts back in May and their footsteps are being followed by other organizations which have realized the potential of the Latino Vote and the consequences of ignoring and neglecting it.
Myths and truths about the Latino vote
For years and years we’ve been told that Latinos and Democrats are natural allies and that Latino vote is going to favor, in its vast majority, Democratic candidates. This assumption may look like a proven fact, but after the 2004 presidential elections no one would dare to say so. The exit polls in southern states proved that the solid alliance between Latinos and Democrats is nothing but a myth and that if Democrats want Latino votes, they will have to do a better effort.
John Kerry made a big mistake. He took for granted the Latino vote and didn’t make a strong effort among the community to gain the vote. Kerry let President Bush take the initiative in the immigration issues and let him do the talking whenever someone wanted to know about immigration reform. The result, turned out to be a complete disaster for Kerry, so big that President Bush was able to obtain 59 percent of the Latino vote in Texas, 56 percent in Florida and unprecedented numbers in the rest of the southern states. The exit polls proved that the days when the Latinos used to vote for Democratic candidates with eyes closed are long gone.
Why is the Latino Vote important?
A figure close to 10 million Latinos voting was the result of the 2004 presidential election, 12 percent of the total vote. The estimated turnout for President Bush and the Republican Party was 42 percent which means that President Bush was able to attract 4.2 million Latinos to his cause. Following the numbers provided by exit polls, only 38 percent of the eligible Latino voters voted in 2004, and this means that at least 26 million Latinos were eligible to vote; 26 million is a really big number, so big that it can shift the political balance in a single election. But we must remember one additional thing, the age average of Latino Citizens is 26, which means that ours is a really young community with a great potential to grow and double those numbers in less than 20 years. If no one is able to see it now, it will become obvious a few years from now and the party that learns how to handle the need and expectations of the Latino community is going to be the one getting those votes (or at least its vast majority).
Immigration Reform and the Latino Vote
A path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers can turn into a hot issue for any of the two political parties. If immigration reform, as proposed by the Senate, is approved, the Latino political power could easily add at least some 8 million additional voters in the next 12 to 15 years. Obviously these voters will tend to favor the party that made the immigration reform a reality.
President Bush was clever enough to see the advantages of this reform so he decided to push it. Same thing happened in the Senate and the Senate produced a bipartisan piece of legislation that would give undocumented workers a path to citizenship and legalization. Everything looked good at this point but House Republicans found themselves running for a close election without a strong campaign issue and they decided to profit out of the undocumented workers situation, turning them into the sacrificial lamb of the political feast.
It was Karl Rove’s strategy, from the White House itself that fueled the House Republicans and awakened the anti-immigrant spirit in order to obtain the necessary votes to maintain their seats. Now, in the middle of the battle, the only loser turned out to be President Bush, who is rapidly becoming the president with the lowest rate of approval ever and the only one who has been completely unable to approve at least one of his major projects in Congress (even with the majority in both, the Senate and the House).
A nationwide movement
Little by little 527 PAC’s are appearing. Lots of organizations are launching voter registration campaigns and they are focusing on the Latino voters. As Political Action Committees, some of these organizations have taken very strong positions and are attacking anti-immigrant legislation all over the country and educating Latinos to vote and giving them new issues to go to the polls.
Of course, these organizations are bashing the Republican Candidates. One must wonder and ask ourselves what’s behind this effort, but it doesn’t take much to come with an answer: Latino voters represent the opportunity to shift the power balance in the House or Senate.
America Votes is one of these organizations. Composed of more than 30 organizations based nationwide, America Votes has begun operations in nine “swing states,” and they have enrolled thousands of volunteers and launched a brutal campaign to educate Latinos on the issues and voting procedures. They have created a specific program for the Latino Community called “Latino Voter and Community Empowerment Project”, created to drive thousands of Latinos to the polls.
Minnesota, a study case
Even if some of us don’t want to believe it, Minnesota is no longer a liberal or “blue” state. The beautiful progressive state that we used to be so proud of is turning into a conservative “red” state, stagnated under the command of Republicans and Governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has chosen to take the anti-immigrant approach and decide to bash the undocumented immigrants in the state and he is using them as the sacrificial lambs of his campaign. Even if he doesn’t agree with this assertion, his strategy may have the opposite effect and drive a different kind of voter to the poll sites, Latino voters.
In 2002 the state’s estimated Latino population eligible to vote was around 80,000 people. From those 80,000 only 35,000 actually voted, meaning that 43.75 percent, or more than 5 percent over the national average of 38 percent. That situation can easily be explained by the fact that the mix of Latinos in Minnesota is different from the rest of the country. Latinos in Minnesota tend to have a higher education level and civic engagement.
But, if we follow these figures, for 2006 the Latino population in the state should be somewhere around 300,000 people and at least 125,000 of them are eligible voters. Minnesota law allows same-day registration, so, if we play by the same average, at least 54,600 Latinos will vote next November. If the efforts of organizations such as America Votes are good enough to drive 10,000 more people to the poll sites, almost double the amount of Latinos that voted in 2002 are going to be voting and that number is good enough to shift the power from one side to the other of the political spectrum. The future of Minnesota may be in the hands of the Latino voters and they may be the ones deciding who the governor is and who controls the state Legislature.
Why do Latinos vote?
For years the issues that used to bring Latinos to the polls were education, employment and other issues such as the war. After the harsh attacks launched by the House Republicans against undocumented workers things seem to be shifting to a different issue. Now we can hear of opinion polls telling us that 76 percent of Latinos think that immigration is the number one issue. Why? The answer may look naive, but if you consider, and understand, that each and every Latino voter in the country has a relative or a friend who is an undocumented worker, or was at a certain stage of his life an undocumented worker, you are attacking that person as well whenever you attack undocumented workers.
Yes, those strong Latino values that we all have heard about, those family values that make us so “Latino” may be a key issue for November’s election and if that’s the case, we are going to witness a very interesting election. Maybe, without even thinking about it, House Republicans did the trick and ignited the spark and the will in the Latino voters.