American University, in conjunction with Latino Decisions, held an event today on “Latinos and the 2012 Elections” – a primer on the impact of the Latino vote this November. (We live-tweeted the event here.)
The event included presentations from Gary Segura of Stanford University, Matt Barreto of the University of Washington, and Ruy Texeira of the Center for American Progress. Segura and Barreto are also principals at Latino Decisions.
An afternoon panel included Barreto, Segura, Valerie Martinez-Ebers of the University of North Texas, Clarissa Martinez de Castro of NCLR, and was moderated by Jordan Fabian of Univision.
The theme of the day involved the flexibility of the Latino vote and how the crucial demographic could break either way in the 2012 elections and beyond. Republicans have demonized immigrants and stood in the way of their most important priorities. Yet President Obama has failed to deliver on key campaign promises to the Latino community and has in fact alienated many in the demographic by stepping up deportations.
“Neither party has a firm grasp on how to reach the Latino vote,” Barreto said early in the day. “And there have been more stumbles than accomplishments.”
This year, polls show President Obama opening up a 45-point advantage over Mitt Romney when it comes to Latino voters. Yet actually turning these voters out will be a challenge, as enthusiasm for Obama is significantly less than it was four years ago.
The key to a Latino voter’s heart, the panelists and presenters suggested, is immigration. Polls repeatedly show immigration as the first or second most pressing concern for Latino voters (when immigration is #2, jobs and the economy are #1). And even then, when voters (Latino OR non-Latino) look at a candidate who has an economic platform they agree with, voters are less likely to vote for that candidate if he supports a restrictionist immigration policy, and more likely to vote for him if he supports comprehensive immigration reform.
“The idea that you can ask Latino voters about voting without asking them about immigration,” Gary Segura said, “is to presuppose a distinction that doesn’t exist.”
The demographic strength and the fluidity of the Latino vote, according to panelists and presenters, could make a huge difference in November. Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Florida are four key swing states with significant Latino vote populations. As Ruy Teixeira noted, Obama winning Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico would put him very close to winning reelection. If he wins Florida as well—“it’s likely game over for the Republicans in 2012.”
How Republicans could push back against Obama and attempt to gain more of the Latino voteshare is a tough question. The GOP primary campaign has been marked by anti-immigrant rhetoric, and frontrunner Mitt Romney has surrounded himself with notoriously nativist crusaders such as former California Governor Pete Wilson, and Alabama and Arizona anti-immigrant law architect Kris Kobach.
“If that’s your strategy,” Segura commented, “how are you going to make an effort to register the Latino vote?”