By Daffodil Altan
New America Media
Editor’s Note: Nationally recognized pollster Sergio Bendixen talked with NAM Editor Daffodil Altan about the future of the Latino vote, the impact of stalled immigration legislation and the devastating blow to Republican strategists on Tuesday when the Latino vote swung decidedly left.
Q: What were some of the surprises about the Latino vote in this election?
A: I think the big surprise when it comes to the Latino vote in yesterday’s election was the large turnout. For the first time in the history of American elections 8% of all voters were Hispanic. That’s the highest percentage that the exit polls have ever recorded. The previous high I believe was 7% in the 2000 presidential election.
The second big news from yesterday’s results was that the Latino vote moved strongly towards the Democratic Party at the national level. According to the exit polls as reported in the Wall Street Journal today, more than 70 % of Hispanics voted for Democratic candidates while only 26% voted for Republicans. That’s a very significant shift when you compare the results of 2004 when only 59% of Hispanics voted for the Democratic candidate and 40% of Hispanics voted for President Bush and the Republicans.
Q: Why the shift?
A: I believe that the immigration issue had a lot to do with energizing the Hispanic electorate, making them a lot more interested in politics and a lot more willing to come out to the polls and participate in the electoral process, but also I think that many Hispanics have been offended by the tone of the debate in the Congress, by the reactionary solutions that have been proposed by many members of Congress and I think they blame the Republican party for the unfair way that issue has been handled and the way it has hurt the image of the Hispanic community nationally.
[Turnout was high also because] Hispanics are also interested in what‘s going on in Iraq and corruption in Washington and the national economy, but I think in particular Hispanics were also reacting to the immigration debate and the way the Hispanic community was framed in a sense - as being partly responsible for many of the problems that the US has with illegal immigration. They did not like many of the so-called reactionary solutions being proposed were heading and they did not appreciate the rhetoric being utilized. Like they did in the 90’s, they decided the best way to defend themselves was to come out and vote heavily in yesterday’s election.
Q: What does this say about the Republican’s long-term strategy to build a larger Latino bloc?
A: President Bush, White House and many of his allies in the Republican Party worked very hard to convince Hispanics that they could feel comfortable in the Republican Party. And they made significant gains over the last 10 years. But the results of yesterday indicate that they must have lost much of the impact of their good work because of the tone of the immigration debate this year. I’m sure there are a lot of people in the Republican Party - thinking they might have had an advantage with the immigration issue in this election, - basically threw away much of the support they had accumulated with Hispanic voters.
Q: What about the Democrats running on an anti immigration platform?
A: There were many Democrats running who were not particularly progressive on the immigration issue but still the overwhelming majority of senators and congressmen are supportive of the Kennedy/McCain solution and I think the perception among Hispanic voters is that the Democratic Party is much closer to representing their point of view than the Republican Party.
Q: Implications for the Presidential vote in 2008?
A: If President Bush works with the Democratic leadership and comes up with a comprehensive bill on immigration and gets something through the Congress it may be that the Republican party may be looked at in a somewhat different way by 2008. But my analysis is that there will be a lot of voter registration between now and the November election and that the electorate comes out and punishes the Republican Party for what it did on immigration the last two years.