Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is right, the Latino vote is up for grabs in 2012 and neither President Barack Obama nor any of the Republican candidates have demonstrated so far that they truly understand this increasingly important voting bloc.
Democrats and Republicans, including McCain, have historically seen Hispanic voters almost exclusively through the lens of immigration, which has consistently framed Latino politics in terms of borders and fences. This characterization is divisive and it misses the point by misreading an expanding electoral group that is as concerned about the economy as the next American.
A recent national survey conducted by Univision found that 65% of registered Latino voters consider jobs and the economy their main concerns when voting. Immigration came as a distant second, with just 23% of respondents considering it their main priority in the voting booth. This is hardly a surprise considering that while the general unemployment rate recently fell to a two-year low, the Latino jobless rate held steady at 11.4%.
The findings redraw the dynamics of Latino politics in new and exciting ways by sending Democratic and Republican strategists mixed messages about the current state of the race and their own approaches to the issues. For instance, Republicans who thought Obama’s ramping up of deportations of illegal aliens would hurt him with Latino voters will be surprised to find that the president’s favorability among this group still considerable strong.
But a larger and more diverse Latino electorate also offers the GOP some hope. Though most Republican presidential candidates scored low among registered Latino voters, the numbers are due to a lack of name recognition, as opposed to just negativity ratings. This offers the eventual GOP nominee the possibility of a fresh start in his or her outreach to Latino voters, with the help of popular Hispanic Republicans (such as New Mexico’s governor Susana Martinez who is also the country’s first Latina governor).
Latinos are neither a “natural” Democratic constituency nor a Republican one. They are diverse and are challenged by the same issues that the general electorate is concerned about. Long are the days when producing a Spanish-speaking, immigration-friendly, political ad was enough to rally Hispanic voters. Right now, the Latino vote is up for grabs and it will swing to the candidate who better articulates an effective strategy of job creation and economic recovery, regardless of the party he or she comes from.
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