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Latinos Flex Political Muscle

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Mobilized by Immigration Issue, Latinos Break Turnout Records, Tip Elections and Trend Democratic in 2008

The power of the Latino vote is one of the key storylines to emerge from the 2008 elections.  Latino and immigrant voters played a decisive role yesterday by delivering four key battleground states to Senator Barack Obama, lifting many members of the House and Senate to victory, and defeating anti-immigrant legislators.

While Latinos care about many of the major issues facing our country today, the issue of immigration both drove them to the polls and helped push this voting bloc to support Democratic candidates. The relatively low level of support for John McCain among Latinos, closer to Bob Dole in 1996 than George W. Bush in 2004, is largely attributable to the fact that the Republican brand image is tarnished among Latinos – even for a past leader on immigration issues such as Senator McCain.

Below are some key data-points about the Latino vote in the 2008 election:

  • The Latino Vote Surged in Size: The Latino vote comprised at least 8% of the overall electorate, according to exit polling. This works out to approximately 10.5 million voters, given the expected 130 million votes cast. This figure represents a jump of 3 million voters since 2004, when 7.6 million Latinos cast ballots, and is almost double the Latino turnout of 2000.
  • The Latino Vote Broke Democratic: In 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry won the Latino vote 56-44% against George W. Bush. Yesterday, Barack Obama won the Latino vote by a 66-32% margin against John McCain, and even won a majority of Latino support in Florida, a former Latino stronghold for the GOP.  Given the increased size of the Latino electorate, this means that 2.9 million more Latino votes went to the Democratic candidate compared to 2004.
  • Barack Obama Swept the “Latino Battleground” States: Both the Obama and McCain campaigns focused their Spanish-speaking advertising and outreach on four key battleground states – CO, FL, NM, and NV. Within these states, the Latino vote’s rapid growth and break towards Democratic candidates played an important role in Democratic victories.
    • CO: The Latino vote in CO grew from 8% of the state’s electorate in 2004 to 17% in 2008. Obama gained support of 73% of CO Latinos – key to his 53-46% victory in the state, as well as the Udall Senate victory.
    • FL: The Latino vote’s shift towards the Democrats was essential in Obama’s win. FL Latinos broke 56-44% for Bush in 2004 and 57-42% for Obama in 2008.
    • NM: Latinos comprised 41% of the NM 2008 electorate – a jump from their 32% in 2004.  Latinos in NM supported Obama 69-30% — a big jump from 56-44% support for Kerry. NM Latinos’ trend towards Democrats played a huge role in the Presidential race and in handing the open Senate seat and two Congressional races (NM-1 and NM-2) to the Democrats.
    • NV: Latinos in NV supported Kerry 60-39% in 2004 and Obama 78-20% in 2008. Latinos in NV also increased from 10% of electorate in ’04 to 16% in 2008, and played a key role in handing the NV-3 Congressional seat to the Democrats. 
  • John McCain’s Support Among Latinos Was More Dole than Bush: John McCain’s received just 32% of Latinos’ support nationwide – closer to the Republicans’ low-water mark of 21% support received by Bob Dole in 1996 than the high-water mark of 44% received by George W. Bush in 2004.
  • Voters Broadly Rejected Anti-Immigrant Candidates and Politics: Voters defeated leading anti-immigrant crusaders such as Marilyn Musgrave (CO-4), Thelma Drake (VA-02), Lou Barletta (running for Rep. Kanjorski’s seat in PA-11), and possibly Virgil Goode (VA-5) (race too close to call at press time), and supported candidates with practical and common sense approaches for fixing our nation’s broken immigration system like Dina Titus (taking Rep. Porter’s seat in NV-3), Bill Foster (IL-14), Jim Himes (taking Rep. Shays’ seat in CT-4), Rep. Giffords (AZ-8), and many others.  In the Senate, new pro-reform senators include Mark Warner in VA, Jeanne Shaheen in NH, Mark Udall in CO, Kay Hagan in NC, and Tom Udall in NM.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “These results lead us to the following conclusions: 1) Republican hostility towards Latinos in general and Latino immigrants in particular is driving this fast growing group of new voters in the country into the hands of Democrats; 2) Candidates who define themselves as in favor of common sense immigration reform win their races; 3) If Republicans expect to emerge from the political wilderness, they will have to separate themselves from the anti-immigrant extremists that have hijacked most of the party; and 4) If Democrats expect to consolidate the support of these voters, they will have to deliver urgently needed policy changes – from economic opportunity to immigration reform – or risk having a growing group of voters swing back towards Republicans or become disillusioned with the Democratic Party.  And these factors combined strongly suggest that neither party will want to go into the next presidential race with immigration reform unresolved.”

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, and Paco Fabián, Communications Director, are both available to provide on the record comment regarding election results. To schedule an interview, please contact Paco Fabián at (202) 412-9969. 

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.