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What Latino Voting Power Means for Both Parties in 2012

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New Latino Decisions Analysis Underscores Key Lessons

Washington – A new analysis from the public opinion firm Latino Decisions highlights the challenge to both Republicans and Democrats when it comes to Latino voters and the 2012 election cycle.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “As we look at Latino public opinion in the run up to 2012, it seems that many Latino voters believe that on the one hand, the Republican Party hates them, and on the other hand, the Democratic Party takes them for granted.  As a result, there are dangers and opportunities for both parties.  For Republicans, they either stand up to and marginalize the anti-immigrant segment of its base – led by the Three Amigos in Congress, Elton Gallegly, Lamar Smith, and Steve King – or make it impossible for the GOP nominee to reach the 40% Latino vote threshold necessary for Republicans to have a chance at re-taking the White House.  For Democrats, either President Obama puts some political capital on the line in the fight for immigration reforms, or he risks low Latino turnout that could hurt his re-election prospects.”

The release of new Census numbers, the results of the 2010 elections, and recent polling of Latino voters has created a new conventional wisdom: Latinos are a growing political force and that immigration impacts their vote.  As a result, Latino voters and the issue of immigration are likely to play a key role in 2012 races, in both states with traditionally high numbers of Latino voters as well as states where Latino voters have arrived in more recently.  Latino Decisions flags ten states for 2012 where “Latino voters have the best chance to influence outcomes.”  Five of these states have sizeable Latino voting blocs – New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona.  Arizona is the new addition, where in 2010, according to Latino Decisions, “Latinos registered voters…demonstrated the highest turnout rate of Latinos in any state.”  Five other states “are not obvious Latino states, but significant population growth over the last decade has left a substantial Latino eligible voter population.”  These include Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

In addition, Latino Decisions shows that robust voter registration drives could make Latino voter influence even stronger in 2012: “Despite massive voter registration drives in 2008 and 2010, only about 60% of Latino citizen adults are registered to vote, compared to 70% of Blacks, and 74% of Whites. Thus, while the Latino population is growing dramatically…its influence in 2012 could be even greater than expected if voter registration drives take shape.”  With the labor movement and community groups getting better at voter registration and mobilization drives every cycle, the registration gap is likely to be narrowed by 2012.

Alongside these data are key political dynamics that will determine whether Latinos vote in 2012 at or above historical levels, as well as likely Latino voting support for each party.

Will the GOP presidential primaries drive leading contenders to the right in a way that makes them radioactive with Latino voters in the general election, a la Meg Whitman?  Will the Republican Party continue to let Lamar Smith (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA), and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) brand the GOP as so anti-immigrant and anti-Latino that even a strong nominee who strikes a different tone falls flat, in much the same way that Tom Tancredo’s hard-line views overshadowed GOP Hispanic outreach efforts in recent elections?  As Karl Rove said after the 2008 election, “The GOP won’t be a majority party if it cedes the young or Hispanics to Democrats.  Republicans must find a way to support secure borders, a guest-worker program and comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation. An anti-Hispanic attitude is suicidal.”

On the other hand, will President Obama’s efforts to rally Latinos on other issues overcome the fact that President Obama has failed to keep his promise to advance comprehensive immigration reform his first year in office?  Or will the Administration’s record number of deportations, the apparent lack of willingness to change course, and new efforts by the immigration reform movement to hold the President accountable become the Achilles heel in the President’s Latino voter outreach?  As Republican strategist Ana Navarro put it, the White House “simply does not have a good story to tell” on immigration.  According to Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-based GOP consultant, the GOP should advertise heavily in Spanish to make the case that Obama abandoned his 2008 promise to emphasize comprehensive immigration reform.  As he put it, “there is a gaping hole in the president’s campaign.”

Said Sharry, “The road to control of the White House and Congress in 2012 and beyond runs through the Latino community.  Republicans have painted themselves into a corner and some Democrats seem to have talked themselves into complacency.  Both would be wise to change course.”

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