Nov. 4 could ultimately change the face of American politics and it is Latino voters who could make the difference.
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.
With roots in different countries, the key voting blocs are among the Mexican American, Puerto Rican and Cuban American communities. Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada are important battleground states for the presidential candidates where these voters could make all the difference.
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.
Education, the cost of living, jobs and health care 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.
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 10 years among Latino voters, who now favor Democrats over Republicans. In 2006, the partisan gap was just 21 percentage points.
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.
Addressing the National Council of La Raza’s national conference last month, 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.