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The Voto Latino, Towards a More Independent Movement?

January 23, 2015

By Clemént Doleac

The Voto Latino will predictably be more important in the decades to come because of the naturalization process and the young population of Latino voters in the United States. This electorate, overwhelmingly labeled as Democrat in nature, progressively became the center of attention of every U.S. political party, and should not be considered as forever bonded to the Democratic Party. However the Republican Party for the time being prefer, to adopt a hostile orientation by trying to narrow this existing electorate by a number of questionable measures. The recent use of President Obama’s executive orders, in order to provide a protective status to nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants, will likely provide a decisive measure to convince Latinos to back the incumbent party in the next elections. Grassroots organizations have seen these measures as too little and too late; the Latino movement will likely gain more independence and enhanced strength from these missteps.

The Awakening Giant

During a national TV broadcast on November 19, 2014, President Obama used an executive order to announce the future regularization of status of an estimated 4 million undocumented Latin American migrants. Similar measures have historically been implemented by former Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush Sr, but in this case it has led to extreme reactions by several Republican politicians.

Conservative lawmakers, such as Kevin McCarthy Representative of California, and the leader of the House of Representatives, accused Obama of abusing his office. Even before Obama’s speech, Republicans were divided about how to deal with the migration issue, fearing that any misplay might irreparably damage their standing with Latino voters. These executive measures by the President and the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) opposition illustrates the growing importance of the Latino community in the U.S., and the political contortions exerted around the Latino electorate.

The nature of the Latino vote is the focus of significant debate because it can be considered an “Awakened Giant”, with the number of Latino voters expected to nearly double by 2030.5 Currently, even though Latinos represent 17 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 10 per cent of voters, but naturalization and immigration could eventually drive a significant growth in numbers. The median age of Latinos in the United States is 27 years old, and 18 among native-born Latinos. Comparatively, the median age for the white non-Hispanic American citizens is of 42. In the coming decades, because of the generational replacement, we will see 40 percent growth in Latino voters from now to 2030. By that year more than 40 million Hispanics will be able to vote, compared to the 23.7 million now eligible.

A Heterogeneous Latino Vote?

During the U.S. midterm elections in November 2014, an impressive majority of Latino voters casting their ballots in favor of the Democrats. The nonprofit Think Progress reported after these midterm elections, that for every three Latinos, voting for the Democratic candidates, one voted for the Republicans, an overwhelming advantage for the Democrats. In every Presidential race since 1980, an impressive majority of Latinos voted for Democratic Party candidates. Still, Latinos are not electorally labeled as staunch Democrats and this electorate tends to focus on key issues such as immigration.

This pro-democratic bias of the Latino electorate cannot be taken for granted. For example, the Latino support for the Obama administration dropped in 2010-2011, after garnering favor of a 67 percent of Latino voters during the last presidential race, because his administration did not deliver the promised immigration reform and deported more than two million undocumented Latinos. President Obama known in the Latino community as the “de-porter in chief,” highlighting his lack of commitment to regularizing the status of undocumented migrants in the country. The Obama administration also has the highest record of deportations of undocumented migrants in recent history, leading to widespread disillusionment of Latinos with the Democratic Party.

Latino population tends to vote Democratic, they still have some conservative characteristics that should not be ignored by Republicans seeking to make inroads. The views of many Latino voters on issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion are particularly conservative.

The Latino electorate is also heterogeneous: Mexican Ameri-ans and Puerto Ricans vote much more liberal than Cuban Americans, although Cuban Americans are more “pro-choice” and more supportive of government provided health care than Mexican Americans. The analysis of the Latino vote is more complicated than what one would expect. The category “Latinos” draws a virtually homogeneous electorate without considering the heterogeneity of the Latino community.

Why do Latinos not vote?

The Latino electorate is also likely to be potentially more important than observed now, because of the current high level of voter abstention. In 2012, 23.7 million Latinos were eligible to vote but only 12.5 million actually cast ballots according to the Pew Research Center data. This level could be considerably improved. One of the reasons why the Latino does not reflect the large population of the Latinos community is because of the cheap tactics of political parties, specifically by the Republican Party. It would be relatively easy for some Republican candidates to make inroads with the Latino vote because of their socially conservative policies, but they prefer to use legal yet dubious practices in order to manipulate the results of elections that alienate minority groups. They constantly try to narrow the electoral base in order to get fewer people to vote, rather than develop a message that convinces the Latino indecisive electorate. Republicans use methods such as gerrymandering and voter suppression to steer Latinos away from the ballot.

Executive Orders: A Real Change or a Marginal Political Move?

President Obama’s executive order, announced on November 20, 2014, will protect eligible undocumented people from deportation and give the right to work to 4.1 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for at least five years. This executive order is also binding for hundreds of thousands more young people.

However, President Barack Obama’s latest immigration executive action is temporary and could expire in 2017 when a new president takes office. The executive order depends on the will of the President, which will certainly become a decisive topic for the Latino community during the 2016 presidential race. This should be seen as a political move done in order to link the 2016 presidential race and the immigration issue.

Polling data analyzed by the Latino Decisions for Presente.org, the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC), and Mi Familia Vota confirmed this opinion that the promise of renewing this executive order would present a decisive advantage to win the Latino Vote in 2016. In this poll, Hilary Clinton, the early Democratic presidential frontrunner for 2016, would gain nearly 85 percent of approval in Latino community, if she chooses to renew these executive measures: If she hypothetically does not, 37 percent of Latinos would approve her. The Republican Party can either vote for a comprehensive immigration reform or attempt to block the executive action after winning the majority in Congress in the 2014 midterm elections, which is likely to be then vetoed by President Obama. In any case, renewing Obama’s executive action on immigration will be an important political commitment to gain the Latinos support in the 2016 presidential race.

Towards an Independent Latino Movement?

The Democrats have attempted to gain Latino support by favoring immigration issues while at the same time ignoring other Latinos demands. Republicans enclosed themselves in opposition to a comprehensive immigration measure. Seventeen States mostly southern and mid-western led by the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry, filed a lawsuit against president Obama’s executive measures. The lawsuit focuses on three points: President Obama allegedly violated the scope of his presidential powers; the federal administration violated the legislative; this rule making process could lead to a deterioration of the welfare state and economic situation around the border.

Republicans as well as De-mocrats are likely to try to respond to the demands of Latinos, but both parties could decide to choose to ignore the minority’s demands. Democrats ignored immigration reform for a long time and likely lost the mid-term election as a result. Beyond this issue, they also can be expected to ignore the socially conservative views of Latinos just as Republicans ignore health, social, and education demands of Latinos. Both parties, in a tacit agreement, prefer to deal with the Latino electorate through the immigration issue, which in itself is enough to drain the Latinos vote.

However, far from the unilateral message publicized in mainstream media, the Voto Latino should not always be labeled Democratic and only immigration reform oriented. Numerous Latinos voted Republican and will continue to do so in 2016, especially if the GOP tries to appeal to more Latinos.

When comparing the 2012 elections to the 2014 midterm elections, this current trend has not favored the Democrats, even if Obama’s last move is likely to reverse this. After being almost a cheap date for Democrats for decades, is the Latino vote emerging as an independent movement, presenting a harsher deal for both parties?

Clemént Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. This is an edited version from the orginal that can be found at: http://www.coha.org/the-voto-latino-towards-a-more-independent-movement/

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