Thursday, 31 July 2008

Latinos go for Obama

Back in February I wrote a piece for Tribune about the trouble that Barack Obama was having with the Latino vote. It seems that Latino voters are now strongly headed in his direction. A survey by Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latino voters are now favour Barack Obama by 66% to 23%. Of the two thirds of Latino voters who were backing Hillary in the primaries, 75% have already switched to Barack Obama.

Inevitably, the issue of immigration comes to the fore when discussing the Latino vote. I had the opportunity when I was in the states to speak to Latino voters, community organisers and political campaigners. It was clear from them that immigration is a very simplistic prism through which to view these communities (we are not talking a socio-demographic monolith here) who have the normal complex array of concerns and issues.

Actually, immigration is partly a subset of wider economic concerns. The reason these communities tended to back Hillary was that they saw the Clinton years as economically prosperous. These communities have a strong political solidarity and loyalty so they stuck with Senator Clinton in the primaries. However, McCain's tack right on immigration reform from his earlier more liberal stance, has harmed him in this group.

Why does the Hispanic vote matter? They are now the largest ethnic minority voting group (see an excellent report from New Democratic Network to see the significance.) They are concentrated in electorally interesting ways. For example, they are relatively large numbers of Latino voters in states such as Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, all states that the Republicans would be expected to win. Explosively, all three of these states are now 'toss up' states.

So it would appear that John McCain is trapped in a classic pincer movement. His white, conservative vote wants to see a tougher line on immigration, but this is repellent to the Latino vote. This is a terrible situation for McCain. It is also one that could cost him electoral votes come November. The Democrats have already started to win Governorships in surprising places. That could be followed by electoral votes in states in which they haven't been competitive since the civil rights movement.

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