‘Threshold Issue’ of Immigration Could be Decisive in CO, FL, NM, NV
With its unprecedented size and level of political engagement this cycle, the Latino vote has grown into one of the most important voting blocs in American politics today. The number of Latinos voting this year is expected to increase to 9.2 million from 7.6 million in 2004, and is growing not only in size, but in influence – especially in key battleground states.
While the top issue for Latino voters is the same as it is for all voters – the economy – the key issue driving the historic levels of political engagement and electoral influence of Latinos in this election is the issue of immigration. Following the contentious immigration debates in Congress in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Latino voters have become more eager to participate in our country’s political process and to make their voices heard.
“As the immigration debate has become more heated and hostile, Latino voters in general, and Latino immigrants and their children in particular, recognize that what is at stake is nothing less than whether they and their families are respected and welcomed in the United States,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “Like all Americans, Latinos are feeling the pain of the downturn in the economy. But what will drive new Latino voters to the polls in record numbers is the immigration debate. This is because immigration has emerged as the “threshold” issue for many Latino voters. Like civil rights for African-American voters, the immigration debate distinguishes those candidates who get that Latinos are hard working Americans from those whose rhetoric suggests that Latinos are dangerous outsiders.”
With one week to go, it is clear that the Latino vote will become one of the key story lines to emerge from the 2008 elections:
- Latino voters will have an unprecedented impact on the 2008 elections. In this historic election year, turnout of Latino voters is expected to break all records. In the 2000 presidential election, 5.9 million Latinos voted, and in 2004, Latinos cast 7.6 million votes. This year, an estimated 9.2 million Latino voters will go to the polls. Experts predict that the record Latino voter turnout will include 2.6 million Hispanics who will be voting for the first time. These unprecedented turnout numbers means unprecedented levels of influence. Senator Barack Obama recently stated, “Latino community, you hold this election in your hands.” Similarly Chuck Todd, NBC News’s Political Director, asserted that “if Barack Obama goes on to win the election, there will be plenty of ink and video spent on chronicling the historic nature of the turnout among young voters and African-Americans. But as important as both constituencies have been to Obama – particularly in the primaries – it’s Hispanics that could be putting him over the top on Nov. 4.” On the other hand, should Senator John McCain pull off a come-from-behind upset, it would occur in part because most undecided Latino voters in key states break heavily for the Republican nominee.
- The Latino vote is both engaged and targeted like never before. Both presidential campaigns have invested significant time and resources towards courting Latino voters in English and Spanish, especially in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. This is due both to the growing size of the Latino vote in these key states and because of Latinos’ historic levels of interest and engagement this election cycle. A recent poll from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund found “tremendous enthusiasm” among Latino voters in these key states, as nearly 90% of Latino voters say they will vote on November 4th. Much of this momentum has been helped by registration and mobilization efforts by organizations such as the We Are America Alliance, the “Ya es hora” campaign, and others. For example, We Are America Alliance is on track to mobilize 1 million new voters to take part in this election, with many of the new voters in battleground districts and states.
- Immigration is driving Latino engagement and voting preference. The registration and mobilization efforts of the We Are America Alliance and others are helping to harness the nascent political activism of new Latino voters, many of whom were moved to action by the contentious immigration debate in the House in 2005. In response to the Sensenbrenner bill, which sought to demonize and criminalize their families, neighbors, and friends, more than four million immigrants and their allies took to the streets in the spring of 2006. During the rallies they chanted, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” and now they are making good on this promise.Then in 2007 Republicans responded to an outpouring of opposition to comprehensive immigration reform from the nativist right and blocked a broad Senate bill. As Mickey Ibarra, Chairman of the Latino Leaders Network stated, “it is Congress’ failure to pass a sweeping immigration reform package last year that may ultimately drive the Latino vote.” Similarly, Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Vice President at the National Council of La Raza, recently called immigration a “threshold issue” for Latinos, saying that it “tends to determine who the good guys are and the bad guys are.
- Latinos have a personal connection to immigration. Like all Americans living through this time of economic crisis, Latinos list the economy as the most significant issue facing the nation. However, the immigration issue resounds in a uniquely personal way that transcends simple policy preferences. That is because many Latinos are closer to their immigrant roots than other groups, and have close family and friends who are caught up in the broken immigration system. Even Latinos whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations feel the brunt of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.The Pew Hispanic Center recently found that 93% of Latino respondents in a nationwide poll said that immigration was important to them personally – a finding that battleground state polling has discovered as well. A recent poll of sponsored by NDN and conducted by Bendixen & Associates in these statesasked Latino respondents, “How important is the immigration issue to you and your family?” In Florida, 79% of Latinos viewed immigration as important (51% “very important”); in Colorado, 74% of Latinos viewed immigration as important (42% “very important); in New Mexico, 80% of Latinos viewed immigration as important (43% “very important); and in Nevada, 86% of Latinos viewed the issue as important (58% “very important”). Additionally, new polling about the Latino Evangelical vote shows that, even among these most conservative of Latino voters (over 60% of whom voted for Bush in 2004), immigration is an issue on par in importance with abortion, and more importantthan same-sex marriage. According to the poll, 82.8 percent of Latino Evangelicals say a candidate’s position on immigration is important in determining their vote.
- The Latino vote could prove decisive in battleground states: As NBC’sTodd speculated, “Obama’s dominance among Hispanics in the West is proving to be the difference maker in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. In addition, the increased numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida, as well as the growing Hispanic population in North Carolina and Virginia, could be the tipping voting group in those three states.” The We Are America Alliance has registered over half a million new immigrant and Latino voters in thirteen states across the country. The numbers of these newly-engaged voters could provide the margin in close races:
CO: Nearly 35,000 new voters in Colorado could help sway both statewide and Congressional races. Both presidential campaigns believe Colorado to be a key battleground state in 2008 and the state’s voters also will decide the open U.S. Senate seat and the “toss-up” race in CO;
FL: The more than 83,000 new voters registered via the We Are America Alliance in Florida could prove pivotal in a state that has defined “battleground” since hundreds of votes decided the 2000 presidential election. Florida was also home to the nation’s closest House race in 2006, as FL-13 was decided by less than 400 votes;
NV: The 52,000 new registrations in Nevada is almost 2.5 times the amount that state was decided by in the 2004 presidential election (George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,500 ); and
NM: Nearly 40,000 new registrations in New Mexico could play a huge role in a state that supported George W. Bush by less than 6,000 votes in 2004 and has an open U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
- The share of New American registered voters currently exceeds 2004 presidential victory margins in 16 states: A breakthrough study conducted by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) captures the growing number of “New American” voters in key areas. New American voters are defined as immigrants and their U.S. born children. According to IPC, the share of New American voters now exceeds the 2004 Presidential victory margins in 16 States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For example, in New Mexico, New American voters accounted for 7 percent of the state’s registered voters, while the margin of victory in the Presidential race amounted to only 0.6 percent of registered voters. In Florida, New Americans comprised 14.5 percent of registered voters, while the margin of victory in the Presidential race amounted to 4.6 percent of registered voters.
Added Sharry, “while much of the pre-election analysis has focused on the importance of white working class voters – and for good reason – we predict that much of the post-election analysis will focus on the role of an enlarged electorate, and of the decisive role played by the growing number of Latino and immigrant voters in this historic development. New voters are redrawing America’s political map, and policy makers who don’t get it could end up on the wrong side of history.”
America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.