How Latinos Are Transforming the Electoral Map
Polling organization Latino Decisions estimates that Obama earned 75 percent of the Hispanic vote. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Editor’s note: PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez contributed this article to Foreign Affairs. You can read the full article on the Council on Foreign Relations website.
Since Election Day, pundits have broadly disagreed on why Mitt Romney lost. But they have largely agreed on why President Barack Obama won. Experts and strategists in the Republican Party had been predicting that the coalition that elected Obama in 2008 had splintered, was disenchanted, and would be unlikely to vote. They could not have been more wrong: black, young, and Latino voters came out in tremendous numbers, making up a big share of the president’s three-million-plus margin of victory.
In the election postmortems, Latinos have received a special level of attention, and for good reason. According to most estimates, Latino support for Obama was just a whisker short of the record 72 percent Bill Clinton got in 1992. Some reports even put it higher: The polling organization Latino Decisions gave Obama an eye-popping 75 percent of the vote, compared with 23 percent for Romney –a 3:1 margin.
“Almost everything you heard about the Latino vote in advance of the election turned out to be untrue,” said Juan Andrade, president of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute and a longtime organizer and activist. Contrary to forecasts that the Latino vote would fail to materialize, Andrade noted that an estimated 1.5 to two million more Latinos voted this year than in 2008, even though overall turnout was lower this year. This time around, the Latino percentage of the overall national vote — an estimated 29 million eligible voters — moved into double digits for the first time, to roughly 11 percent.
Current demographic trends suggest that that percentage will grow in the decades to come, and if Democrats continue to win lopsided margins among Latinos, it will become nearly impossible for Republicans to win enough Electoral College votes to put a candidate in the White House. This year’s race saw Latinos voting Democratic in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada. Those states, along with California, Florida, and Illinois, could easily remain out of reach for Republicans in the future. Even states solidly in the GOP camp — such as Georgia, Texas, and Arizona — are already turning purple and could eventually become blue.
The morning after Obama declared victory, I spoke to Juan Sepulveda, the national Latino coordinator for the Democratic National Committee. He said the outcome was the result of careful planning in advance of election season, with registration drives, field contacts, and banking early votes to avoid problems on Election Day. “Overall, we’re incredibly pleased,” he said. “We carried out our strategy exactly as we planned to carry it out, and we got even better results than we expected.” Sepulveda has no doubt that Latinos gave the president his margin of victory in Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada — all of which were vital to his victory.
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