El Voto Latino

In 2008, the youth vote was key in electing Barack Obama, with 66% of the 22-24 million voters aged 18-29 voting for Obama. This year the most talked about demographic is the ‘Latino Vote’, with both candidates trying their best to capture as much support amongst the 23.7 million eligible Latino voters, with 33% of that number aged between 18-34. The problem is, the Latino Vote doesn’t exist.
What I mean by this is that there is no magical platform that a candidate can cobble together to win over the Latino population. Yet both parties have approached the Latino population as if it were a monolithic entity. Despite a common language, which actually sounds very different depending on who’s doing the speaking, the Latino population of the US is diverse in terms of how they identify ethnically, socioeconomically, and politically. A young Dominican Democrat who identifies as black in New York has very little in common with a white Cuban Republican from Miami. Yet they are referred to with the blanket term Latino and assumed to have the same political interests.


While immigration policy would appear to be the key Latino issue, it is actually secondary to concerns about the economy and education. Let’s take a look at the ways both candidates have tried to address the “Latino vote”.


The Univision Presidential Forums


After the Commission on Presidential Debates announced an all white lineup of moderators, Univison President Randy Falco asked for a debate on Hispanic issues, which the Commission denied. Univison went on to organize its own Presidential Forums that both Obama and Romney quickly agreed to participate in. Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, the Univision hosts, took full advantage of the opportunity to grill the candidates.


They brought Obama to task for his broken immigration reform promise early in the interview, and the next day asked Romney what he meant by self-deportation as an immigration policy. Obama seemed to be passing the buck a little in his responses, blaming a weak economy and unwilling Republicans for his lack of comprehensive immigration reform, but promised that he would continue to tackle it if he served a second term. Romney on the other hand said that he supported “legal immigration”, but avoided answering if he would model federal immigration laws after the Arizona model, which he had praised as one to follow.


Spanish Language Campaigns


Both candidates have made an effort to appeal to Spanish speaking voters with Spanish language ads. Obama most recently in an ad where he speaks in Spanish about how the DREAMers have inspired him. It’s a nice touch, even if he is speaking very slowly, his pronunciation sure beats other non-native speaking politicians’ attempt at the language. I’m looking at you Miguel Bloombito!


The Romney campaign also has Spanish language ads, most notably ads featuring his Spanish-speaking son Craig. Not bad Craig, though I think you could work on your accent a little more.


Latino politicians


What’s most interesting about these election campaigns is the Latino face that both parties want to present. Before Paul Ryan became the vice-presidential candidate, there were rumors that Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, was a possible candidate. The presence of Latino politicians at the Republican National Convention was palpable, with a prominent Latino speaking every day at the Convention during prime time slots.


The Democratic National Convention chairman was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, while the keynote speaker at the Convention was 38-year-old San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. It would appear that both parties understand the strategic necessity of having Latino voices in their parties. However, how broad an appeal these individual politicians have is hard to say.
Again the point is that the “Latino vote” does not exist. Marco Rubio is a fluent Spanish speaker, who has in the past made misleading allusions to his family fleeing the Castro government as a selling point, appeals to both conservative Latinos and non-Latinos. Julian Castro on the other hand does not speak Spanish fluently, and is seen as a “tax-and-spend liberal” by Tea Party Latinos (yes they exist!).


While both parties have made considerable efforts to reach out to Latino voters, there is still a lot that could be done to refine that message. Seeing past the term Latino Vote would be a first step.

Deborah was born and raised in Malaysia; three years ago she couldn’t wait to leave, but now finds herself writing and thinking about home all the time. She finds herself being mistaken for Latina in the United States, the latest in a long line of ethnicities other people have assumed for her, and decided to just go with it.

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