There is no doubt about it. Nov. 4 could ultimately change the face of American politics and its Latino voters who will arguably make the difference. Latinos are expected to make voter history as one of the most important electoral constituencies throughout the country. And it’s no surprise that Latino voters will make a huge impact in the likelihood of electing the first U.S. African American president.
In a recent poll by the nationwide Pew Hispanic Center Latinos are overwhelmingly supporting Sen. Barack Obama for president at 66 percent over Sen. John McCain at 23 percent.
Latino voters remain an important bloc to both the Republican and Democratic camps numbering at 15 percent of the total U.S. population and representing 9 percent of the eligible electorate. Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the country.
The presidential candidates are both seeking to make Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada important battleground states where they plan to reach out to Latino voters. Obama said he plans to spend $20 million targeting and mobilizing Latino voters in all 50 states but will favor the four battleground areas.
Although Hillary Clinton won the majority of the Latino vote during the Democratic primaries, the new poll dismisses the charge that Latinos were unwilling to vote for a Black presidential candidate.
According to the report, which surveyed over 2,000 Latino adults of which 892 are registered voters, Obama is rated favorably by 76 percent compared to McCain at 44 percent. President Bush scored a 27 percent approval rate. Clinton’s rating among Latino registered voters remains high at 73 percent favorable. Latino voters supporting McCain represent a smaller percentage today than those who supported Bush in 2004.
But despite what many speculated about Latino voters for Obama, more than three-quarters of Latinos who said they voted for Clinton during the primaries now say they are inclined to vote for Obama next November, while just 8 percent say they will pull for McCain.
In other words Obama today is gaining more and more popular support from Latino voters than those who originally sided with Clinton during the primaries. What is also interesting is the poll sees Obama doing better among Latinos who supported Clinton than he is among non-Latino white Clinton supporters, 70 percent of whom say they will now support Obama while 18 percent say they vote for McCain. Yet still the numbers prove the majority of Clinton supporters both Latino and white are making massive strides to ensure their support increases the chance for an Obama victory.
Education, the cost of living, jobs and health care, in this order, were ranked the most pressing issues facing Latino voters nationwide. Crime, the Iraq war and immigration are not far behind. Obama is strongly favored over McCain to tackle these issues ranging from three-to-one except for Iraq and crime where he is still favored two-to-one.
Latinos have historically supported Democratic candidates but in the last two years their support for the Democratic camp has increased significantly. Some 65 percent of Latino registered voters now say they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with just 26 percent with the Republicans. The 39-percentage point difference is the largest gap in ten years among Latino voters who now favor Democrats over Republicans. In 2006 the partisan gap was just 21 percentage points.
Among general registered voters a CNN poll shows Obama (47 percent) holding a 6 point lead over McCain (41 percent).
The historic possibility of electing the country’s first African American president along with confronting major issues such as an economy in crisis, rising gas and food prices, the war in Iraq, health care and education has energized many new and young voters to become fully engaged in record numbers. Some 70 percent feel the country is headed in the wrong direction under Bush.
Despite many who would like to see unity crumble between Latinos and African Americans, both communities share a lot in common. Many working class white workers have much to gain too in supporting multi-racial coalitions around Obama’s campaign.
In fact the anti-racist majority surrounding Obama’s candidacy highlights how far the U.S. has come given the progressive history of the labor movement, the civil-rights era, the peace movement and the rights of undocumented workers.
Addressing the National Council of La Raza’s national conference last July Obama said the current system is not working when the public school system is crumbling, high unemployment rates continue to rise and when 12 million undocumented immigrants have to live in hiding.
Obama stressed his campaign is about correcting the problem of working women who can’t find affordable health care or after-school programs for their children and about fighting for a living wage that fights for equal pay for equal work with guaranteed benefits.
“I will be a president who stands with you, and fights for you, and walks with you every step of the way,” said Obama. “When the system isn’t working, people who love this country can come together to change it. That is the history of the Hispanic community in America. From fighting to desegregate our schools and neighborhoods, to organizing farm workers, and to standing up for the rights of immigrants.”
“Make no mistake about it: the Latino community holds this election in your hands,” said Obama.
At a recent gathering of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, Obama told the audience that many of them marched for immigrant rights and he assured them he would make the issue a major priority.
“That was the time to march,” he said. “Now is the time to vote.”