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New Evidence for “The Harry Reid Effect”

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Yesterday, we explained the Harry Reid Effect” – when pre-election polls underestimate the Latino vote in a way that underestimates the actual standing of the candidates they support.

The Reid Effect is caused by (a) methodological problems in pre-election polls that create a skewed Latino voter sample, which can lead to an underrepresentation of Spanish-dominant Latino voters and (b) a failure to sufficiently factor into turnout models Latino voter registration and turnout operations in battleground states, which can lead to projections that underestimate the Latino share of the electorate.  These are the reasons that the entire political world, relying on faulty pre-election polling and turnout models, predicted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would lose his 2010 re-election.  No wonder they were shocked when he won by nearly six percentage points.

Today, two new pieces suggest that the Reid Effect could well be a key factor this year.

In a new article in Mother Jones, titled “Are the Polls Undercounting Latino Obama Backers?”, Adam Serwer cites the methodological problems regarding Latino polling, highlights the lessons of Nevada’s 2010 Senate race between Senator Reid and Sharron Angle and examines what it all may mean for this election cycle:

“If President Barack Obama loses big Eastern states like Florida and Ohio on November 6, Western swing states like Colorado and Nevada could help him hold on to the White House. Polls in Colorado and Nevada make the states look like anything but sure bets for the president, but there’s good news for Obama: By undercounting Democratic-leaning Latinos, those polls could be dead wrong…

…‘When you start polling in any state that’s competitive with a big component of the electorate being Latino, you tend to see that they tend to underestimate the Latino vote,’ says David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada. ‘[The result] tends to be more Republican than it actually will be.’

[Matt] Barreto [of Latino Decisions] says it’s happening again this year. ‘Pollsters who are missing that component of the correct proportion of Spanish interviews, they are completely underestimating a growing part of the electorate, and this is the part that is most heavily Democratic,’ he argues. ‘They’re are operating on models that are at best 20 years old.’ (Barreto expanded on his theory in a post written Monday.)

One of the biggest political changes over the past 20 years, Barreto claims, is among Spanish-dominant voters most likely to break toward Democrats. Many of these voters are naturalized citizens, a population that in the past hasn’t really made an impact at the polls. But since the mid-1990s, when immigration first started emerging as a hot-button political issue, these voters have been turning out in in greater numbers. Now, Barreto says, there’s evidence that they’re more likely to hit the ballot box than US-born Latinos.

Why does this matter? Even if Romney wins Virginia and North Carolina, Barack Obama only needs 33 of the remaining 82 swing state electoral votes to win, while Romney needs 51. The race is so close that a shift of a few points among Latinos in states with large Latino voter populations like Colorado, Nevada, and Florida could determine who gets those crucial remaining electoral votes…”

And in a post on the Daily Kos website, Eliseo Medina of the SEIU, the nation’s leading activist and expert on turning out Latino voters, writes that Latino voter registration and turnout operations are in high gear in key 2012 states.  Given estimates that the turnout of Latinos could well be 26% higher this year than in 2008,  this could mean that pre-election polls that rely on old turnout models are badly underestimating the Latino percentage of the overall vote.  Says Medina:

“On all the networks and major newspapers, the political pundits and special reports are zeroing in on the new soccer moms of the country—Latinos. Analysis and predictions whirl around the largest minority group that can potentially sway the vote of key battleground states. But there’s always one condition or challenge to their voting strength: ‘If they vote’ or ‘Will they vote?’

The answer doesn’t have an ‘if,’ it is simply yes, Latinos will vote.

And we will vote in record numbers. The Latino community throughout America is no longer a sleeping giant; in fact, we are awake and we are cranky…

…I have seen it firsthand. In my travels from California and Colorado to Nevada and Florida, I have spoken to many Latinos who are either voting for the first time or doing their part by knocking on doors and getting the vote out.

The immigrant voices and faces, those of DREAMers and diligent immigrant workers in the fields and behind the doors of countless homes and private businesses, have not gone silent or unseen. The campaigns to register and mobilize Latino voters have been unique in that they include these voices, driving and motivating voters to go to polls.

I spoke to a Latino volunteer in Colorado who I accompanied as she knocked on some doors to register voters. As we walked, she spoke to me of her brother, an undocumented immigrant in America for over ten years, who told her that she needed to vote for him, she had to remember him and others like him when voting. Her daughter, a first-time voter, also encouraged her to do more for their community and her friends, DREAMers, who wished they had the same right she would exercise this November. And that’s exactly why she was out there, door to door, phone-bank after phone-bank, making sure Colorado Latinos got the message.

This is the type of story I have heard countless times. They are inspirational and push us not only to vote, but to make sure that whoever wins is held accountable. The time for waiting and hoping for immigration reform has led us to this point—a crucial fork in the road where we either continue to hold on to an idea or fight for a common-sense policy that will give DREAMers and immigrant families across the country a chance at citizenship. Make no mistake the latter is in our view.

We are not a fad, but a permanent voice in the political scheme. It’s up to us as Latinos to hold on to our place in history and lead our community forward with all the working families in America. We’re not going anywhere or “self-deporting.”

Read Adam Serwer’s article, “Are the Polls Undercounting Latino Obama Backers?”

Read Eliseo Medina’s piece, “Yes, Latinos Will Vote”

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