The impact of the ‘Latino vote’ beyond Texas

By Alicia W. Stewart

By now, it has been established that Latino voters are a diverse group and a crucial electorate that will help determinethe next president of the United States.

But here is what’s new to know about the impact of Latino voters: It will be felt in places one might not expect.

“Moving beyond the Southwest and Florida, Latino voters can also influence the election results in ‘nontraditional’ states like North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, ” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a polling firm. “Those states have had substantial growth in the Latino population and among voters, based on our analysis of census data and statewide voter rolls.”

Florida-based political analyst Charles Garcia noted earlier this year that in North Carolina, the number of registered Hispanic voters has almost doubled to more than 130,000 since the last presidential election.

“President Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by 14,000 votes,” Garcia said. “In 2008 there were 68,000 registered Latino voters, and a whopping 84% of them participated in the election.”

Polling experts say this shift will affect the 2012 election.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll found 61% of Latino registered voters’ choice for president was Barack Obama, and 27% choose former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Latino voters played a key role in Obama’s 2008 win over Republican John McCain. Nationally, Obama won 67% of Hispanic voters, including the battleground state of Florida, with 57% of the Latino vote.

It was only four years earlier that Latino voters in Florida supported President George W. Bush with 56% of the vote in his re-election bid. Nationally, Bush was re-elected with 40% of the  Latino vote.

Republican strategist Ana Navarro suggests that Romney’s “campaign needs to wake up and go to sleep every night thinking of the Latino vote”  to win the election.

And as the American demographic changes, David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, comments that the GOP’s traditional voters are “dying off“.

The Republican Party understands the need to court Latino voters to win the White House and continues to make outreach efforts.

Demographic changes may be shining a spotlight on the candidates’ efforts, but it is the issues that matter.

It comes as no surprise that for Latinos, just as for all Americans, improving the economy is a top concern. But how candidates speak about immigration, even as most are Latinos are American citizens,  have shaped conversation and discussion that are informing how Latinos vote. Of particular interest has been support of the DREAM Act, a bill that offers a path to citizenship for some minors who entered the country illegally.

Additionally, as immigration from Mexico has come to a virtual halt, the future of how the Latino vote is discussed will affect how this electorate is viewed.

“The Latino vote has gone from being an ethnic vote, to an immigrant vote and now back to an ethnic vote, ” said Gregory Rodriguez, founder of Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. “The end of immigration as we know it is redefining Latinos and redefining the so called Latino vote.”

this article appeared on CNN on 5/29/12

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