6.06.2008

Who'll Win the Latino Vote?

Who wins the Latino vote in general election this fall, Barack Obama or John McCain? Time will tell, but indicators suggests to me that it likely will not be John McCain.

First, a reality check: Contrary to some of the myth-making pundits and political opponents, Obama has Latino support:

A new Gallup Poll summary of surveys taken in May shows Obama winning 62% of Latino registered voters nationwide, compared with just 29% for McCain.
So, how did Obama not perform better with Latinos against Hillary?

The Clinton primary election strategy was to build a coalition of interests with Latinos being a key target group. It was a strategy built on traditional Democratic Party coalition-building and it played to her strength as the establishment candidate with the political machine connections.

Obama's strategy was different. As a newcomer--and an African American candidate, Obama sought to appeal to people based on their desire for progressive change. The strategy did not simply rely on name ID, party or ethnic loyalties.

These different strategies led to different approaches to communications and outreach.

For instance, Obama's messages were primarily delivered via the internet and mass rallies, while Hillary's were disseminated via television ads, controlled town hall meetings, and interest group rallies. Latinos were bombarded with pro-Hillary messages via Spanish language television, as well as through the organization of Latino-specific rallies in Latino districts.

In contrast, Obama held few Latino events and did virtually no Spanish television advertising.

The results of these two divergent approaches was that Obama captured the educated, English-speaking and Latino youth vote, while Hillary dominated the Spanish language television viewers, lower-income and interest group Latino vote.

In the general, the Obama campaign will use a strategy against McCain that is different than the one used against Hillary. It'll be one that's honed based on the issues, voting preferences and political opportunity.

While Latinos were a stronger constituency for Hillary, they are NOT for McCain. After all, most Latinos are Democrats. Latinos have suffered economically under the current Republican regime. Most are opposed to the Iraq War. Furthermore, most are distressed by the GOP's anti-immigrant politics.

While many Latinos are grateful for his more constructive approach to immigration reform, McCain will find it difficult to overcome the GOP's dismal record and harsh rhetoric--especially if the rightwing anti-Latino propagandists continue their nativist drum-beating.

Of course, Obama cannot take the Latino voters for granted--and he won't. He'll have to actively court their support--as will McCain.