The Latino Vote: Impact and Future

What will the impact of the Latino vote be in future elections? Their impact in the 2010 midterm elections provides some insight. We’ve seen the first election where the non-Cuban Latino vote has swung very much in a different direction than the “average voter.” In other words, independents swung towards Republicans in this election. Latinos did not. If anything, Latinos swung more towards Democrats. What does this tell us for the future? Latinos will not be able to be ignored quite so easily by either party.

The Democrats cannot take Latinos for granted in ways they have taken the black constituency for granted. According to Paul Frymer, African Americans have been “captured” by the Democratic party. Because African Americans are a loyal Democratic base, they do not get courted by the Democratic party the way they would if they tended to shift towards the Republican party. According to Nate Silver the 2010 midterm elections were about deepening partisanship rather than realignments of any kind, so Silver contends that Democrats will be in a position to make some modest gains in 2012. However, in my estimation, Silver’s analysis will only be true if the Democrats do not ignore Latinos in 2012.

The Republicans face a demographic problem as the Latino electorate grows. More and more states will become out of reach for them, including big states like California and some day Texas if they can’t figure out a way to appeal to Latino voters. According to Angela Kelley, Marshall Fitz, and Gebe Martinez of The Center for American Progress:

Latino voters…protected incumbent senators in Nevada, Colorado, and California and decided the balance of power in the upper chamber. Their vote also affected governors’ races in several states where they turned out in strong numbers for Democrats who defended them. Also noteworthy, they were decidedly cooler toward Republican Latino candidates who didn’t stand strongly in support of immigration reform.

They go on to state:

A major reason why Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Democrats this year is that Republicans were viewed by the community as embracing harsh policies like the Arizona law and opposing common sense measures like the DREAM Act. That will have to change if Republicans want to take over the White House in 2012 from President Obama, who understands the political clout of the Latino vote.”

Latinos represent 19 million eligible voters according to the Pew Research Center. They also preferred Democrats to Republicans in the 2010 midterm election (64% to 34% respectively.

Latinos are not a homogenous group. They can be of any race; they can be first generation Americans, or from families dating back to the U.S. for five generations or more; they are culturally diverse group with origins from many different Latin American countries all with unique historical connections in the United States. However, there are some generalizations worth making: their policy needs are not being addressed by either party and they share experiences that link them to both parties. Both political parties must start appealing to Latino voters.

But will this happen in the 2012 election? It would be wise for both political parties to begin paying more attention to Latino voters. It would be even wiser if Latino interests such as employment opportunities, poverty, education, immigration issues, housing, and civil rights policies were incorporated into policy agendas. When some of the issues begin to be incorporated systematically into either party’s agenda then Latinos will see that their needs and their future in America matters. As the largest racial and ethnic group in the country, we are as the saying goes, in this together. And Latinos will continue to flex their electoral muscle and make a difference as the 2010 midterm elections demonstrate.