Immigration Reform and the Latino Vote

Latino voters in the United States were a pivotal constituency in the 2008 general elections, a linchpin of the broad coalition that helped elect President Obama and secure Democratic control of Congress. In the event, Democratic control of Congress turned out to be far more tenuous than anyone expected, with an unbroken phalanx of GOP members marching in lockstep against whatever the Democrats put forward – including immigration reform, the promise of which helped propel candidate Obama to the Presidency, but a promise he has yet to fulfill.

Political strategists on both sides of the aisle are asking the same question: will Latino voters again play a decisive role in the 2010 election? Based on recent polls, the answer appears to be “yes” – but for different reasons. This time around, the answer turns largely on the issue of voter turnout. The New York Times reported that polls show Latino support for Democratic candidates running almost three to one to their support for GOP candidates – 65 percent for Democrats vs. 22 percent for Republicans – but the Times reports that “only 51 percent of Latino registered voters said they would absolutely go to the polls, compared to 70 percent of all registered voters.” (See Latino Vote Turnout Likely to Lag, Poll Says, by Marc Lacey, New York Times, 05.Oct.2010.)

Demoralization of Latino voters will be a key factor in determining their turnout on November 2nd, the New York Times article argues, citing a Pew Hispanic Center poll suggesting that “the raging debate over Arizona’s law and the lack of Congressional action on immigration overhaul may have turned off many Latinos.” One might have expected these exact issues to ignite a firestorm of political indignation in the Latino community – enough to bring Latino voters out in record numbers to make their voice heard in Washington – but these things are unpredictable.

The Washington Post put the question this way: are Hispanic voters “mad enough?” (See Will Arizona’s Immigration Law Motivate Latino Voters?, by Krissah Thompson, Washington Post, 06.Oct.2010.) Are they sufficiently fed up with the politics of divide and conquer, the racial profiling, the “us versus them” hatred stirred up by anti-immigrant politicians and interest groups?

Democratic activists hope so. The Post reports that a coalition of Latino advocacy organizations are sponsoring a video ad campaign – “Vote for Respect” – that’s designed to increase Latino voter turnout in the coming election. A radio ad campaign, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, Mi Familia Vota, and America’s Voice, will lambast GOP Senators for failing to support the DREAM Act. (See “Immigration Advocates Target GOP in DREAM Act Ads, by Corey Dade, National Public Radio.)

These campaigns have their work cut out for them. A Gallup poll cited by political pundit, Markos Moulitsas, shows that Congressional Democrats – like the President – face falling support among Latino voters, with Democrats dropping from “a significant +32 net favorability rating among Latinos in the summer of 2010,” to a net +13 favorability rating (51 approve, 38 disapprove) by September 2010. (See Dems’ Future Lies in Latinos, by Markos Moulitsas, The Hill, 05.Oct.2010.)

For their part, GOP politicos and their strategists are using immigration issues as a tool to shore up support among their party faithful, and to pick away at Democratic support among key constituencies – like Latino voters – that had expected comprehensive immigration reform to be a done deal by now. Texas Senator John Cornyn, who chairs the GOP Senate Campaign Committee, recently scored a “twofer” in a speech before the National Press Club, bashing the President for failing to keep his promise to enact CIR in the first year of his presidency, while dismissing the new Menendez CIR proposal as too little, too late, calling immigration reform “serious subject matter” that “bears much more consideration than simply to be filed the day we adjourn or to be taken up in a lame duck session.” One has to give Senator Cornyn high marks for cheekiness, but those who have been following the CIR debate may find his statement more than a little ironic. (See Cornyn: Obama Broke Promise on Immigration,” by Chris Good, The Atlantic, 30.Sep.2010.)

In a few weeks, we will know whether Latino voters are angry enough about the lack of progress on CIR, about anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and elsewhere, angry enough to get out to the polls and make a difference. For those who are weary of the political back-and-forth, take heart: it will be the day after election, before you know it!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.