The more the Latino voter turnout grows by Nov. 2, the greater the likelihood the Kerry-Edwards ticket will defeat Bush-Cheney and the extreme right-wing majority in Congress. Latinos are expected to favor Kerry at a 60–75 percent rate. Already the increase in Latino turnout is projected as at least 1 million and could reach close to 2 million, says the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project. The group projects 9.5 million Latino registered voters, a 2 million increase over 2000.
This tremendous gain for the Democrats is not reflected in the polls, which are based on likely voters. One-sixth to one-third of the expected 7–8 million Latino voters will be new and fall outside the scope of the polls. Fully projecting the likely Latino vote would give Kerry-Edwards a 1 percent or greater advantage in the polls, and even more in key battleground states like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado where the Latino vote is substantial. In Kerry’s big popular and electoral vote base in California, New York and Illinois, Latinos are a key element of his support.
The Latinos for Kerry momentum has steadily increased since he emerged as the frontrunner in the primaries. At that time, in polls of Latinos he was rated even or slightly ahead. In June, a Gallup poll of Latinos gave Kerry a 57–38 lead. In July a Pew Hispanic Center poll gave Kerry a 62–33 lead. On Oct. 9, a Zogby poll of “likely” voters gave Kerry 64 percent.
The heart of Kerry’s approach to Latinos has been the bread-and-butter issues. He has outlined his program at key labor and civil rights conventions. He stands for labor law reform that would allow a majority of workers to be recognized as members of the union of their choice, an increase in the minimum wage, closing tax loopholes for big corporations and the rich to increase funding for public education, health care coverage, and affordable housing. He calls for immigration reforms to increase the opportunity for permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented residents. In contrast, the Bush record and platform reject such policies.
Latinos have the nation’s highest concentration of participation in the labor market, at 68 percent. Yet 21 percent of Latinos live in poverty, compared to 8 percent of whites. The median income for Latino workers is the lowest at $19,651; for whites it is $30,622. The percentage of Latinos in blue collar or service jobs is 44, for whites it is 28.
The main road toward economic equality for Latinos has been union contracts. A union job means a $212-a-week increase in pay for Latinos — for whites the increase is $135. The next important path to economic advance for Latinos is higher education. But even though having a college degree means a significant economic gain for Latinos, the relative inequality remains virtually unchanged. And only 57 percent of Latino adults have completed high school, compared to 88 percent of whites. One third of Latinos have no health insurance. Over 40 percent of Latinos are immigrants, and more than 80 percent favor providing undocumented workers a clear path to citizenship.
Because of such conditions, since the New Deal, Latinos have supported an activist government working to improve living standards, quality of life, democracy and equality. Historically, Latinos have voted heavily Democratic.
Kerry’s increasing criticism of the invasion and occupation of Iraq has solidified his standing among Latino voters. In a July Washington Post/Univision/Tomas Rivera Policy Institute poll, 62 percent of Latinos disapproved of how Bush was handling the Iraq war and only 29 percent approved.
Under Bush there are more Latinos unemployed, uninsured, ill-housed and living in poverty. Bush is so out of step with Latino issues that he has studiously avoided the election year meetings of virtually all major Latino organizations, including the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino advocacy group, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, not to mention the labor conventions.
The Bush administration and its ultra-right supporters have stepped up attacks on Latinos with the not-so-subtle aims of discouraging Latino voters and encouraging a racist anti-Latino backlash. Mass raids have been carried out by border patrol agents miles away from the borders. Instead of adjourning, the Republican-controlled Congress is trying to railroad through last-minute anti-Latino, anti-labor and anti-people measures.
On Sept. 29 the NCLR released a study indicating that Latino voter turnout will be a decisive factor in Florida and New Mexico. The only base for Bush among Latinos is among Cuban Americans in Florida who immigrated before 1980. A bigger turnout of Puerto Rican and younger Cubans who favor Kerry could make the difference there. In Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, if the race is close, support from Latino voters will be important. Increasing the momentum of Latinos for Kerry is key to the defeat of Bush.
Rosalío Muñoz is an organizer for the Southern California district of the Communist Party USA. He can be reached at email@example.com here for Spanish text