It was always clear that Latino voters would be a crucial voting bloc in this year’s campaign. Yet many pundits, analysts and Republican politicians continually downplayed and undersold the potential impact of Latino voters using a variety of excuses: turnout will be low; Latinos will come around to Republican ideas on job creation; Latinos weren’t paying attention to the Republican primary debates; maybe right-wing social issues might somehow become appealing by November. While we’re still poring over the election returns, it’s clear that, if anything, the impact of Latino voters’ support for progressive candidates exceeded almost everyone’s expectations.
With an eye towards expanding the progressive base as well as immediate electoral impact, this year People For the American Way undertook a first of its kind, comprehensive plan to get out the vote and communicate with Latino voters in six key swing states about Mitt Romney’s dangerous agenda, as well as the GOP’s extreme and offensive rhetoric about the Latino community. With a combination of Spanish language television ads, Spanish language radio ads, internet ads and direct mail in both English and Spanish (see links below), we reached out to voters in two states with large Latino populations—Nevada and Colorado—as well as four other states where rapid population growth has put Latinos in a position to play kingmaker in a close race—Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia.
These states represented crucial battlegrounds in the presidential election and in some cases (Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin and Virginia) were also home to important Senate races.
The results were easy to see. In Colorado, where PFAW’s program had a significant footprint, 74% of Latinos supported the President, compared to only 61% four years ago. That increase offset a sizable decline in support from Anglo voters. Nationwide, Latino turnout also increased, with important increases in key states like Nevada, where the Latino share of the electorate increased four points—with a 45 point margin, 69 to 24%, for President Obama.
In states with smaller Latino populations, Latinos routinely delivered lopsided support to the President. In Virginia, the President won the Latino vote by 32 points (64-33%), in North Carolina by 31 (65-34%), and in Wisconsin by 37 (67-30%). In Virginia and Wisconsin in particular, Latino support also propelled Democratic Senate Candidates to victory—Tammy Baldwin won Latinos by 29 points (63-34%) while Tim Kaine won by 24 (62-38%).
The impact of the Latino vote, however, can’t be measured only in the results it yields in a single election, and history has shown that when Republicans alienate Latino voters they suffer the consequences for years. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson hitched his reelection campaign to the controversial, anti-immigrant Proposition 187. His gambit was successful in the short term—the governor was reelected and the initiative passed—but disastrous in the long run. By demonizing Latinos repeatedly on the campaign trail, Wilson permanently alienated the state’s fastest growing group. Since that time, Republicans have been rendered for the foreseeable future a permanent minority party in the state. In 1996 the first election after 187, Bill Clinton became the first Democratic presidential nominee in decades to win a clear majority in the state, and since then no other Democratic nominee has failed to do the same. Wilson’s exploitation effectively destroyed the GOP’s future in California.
In many key swing states, the Latino population is growing at a stunning pace, turning GOP bastions into swing states and swing states eventually into solid blue states. In Virginia, for instance, Latinos currently account for 7.9% of the population but have grown 91% in the last decade. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that in 2008 Virginia supported a Democrat for President for the first time since 1964 and did the same yesterday. In Wisconsin, Latinos account for 5.9% of the population, but have grown 74% in the same period. Perhaps most impressively, Latinos make up 8.4% of North Carolina’s population, but have grown a stunning 111% in ten years. None of these trends are likely to slow any time soon. If Latino power is the leading demographic story of 2012, it’s only a precursor to the impacts the nation will see in four, eight or twelve years.
This doesn’t bode well for Republican candidates in the future, nor can the GOP sidestep this challenge simply by toning down the rhetoric, focusing on social issues they hope will divide or reversing the party’s rigid opposition to meaningful immigration reform. It’s clear that the Republican dogma that any government action constitutes a giveaway that need to be eliminated runs counter to many of the concerns of the Latino community.
Until Republicans rethink their approach to government from the ground up and overcome their temptation to demonize Latinos and immigrants for short term gain, this toxic mix will lead the GOP to many future deserved defeats at the polls.
You can see samples of PFAW’s work below.
- TV ad 1 http://youtu.be/nbLkiHV3Dhk
- TV ad 2 http://youtu.be/zLQPEYz7FQE
- TV ad 3 http://youtu.be/1SyYjjQi6_Y
- TV ad 4 http://youtu.be/6BYs7aDBBKU
- Radio ad 1 http://soundcloud.com/calvin-sloan/somosel47-radio-final
- Radio ad 2 http://soundcloud.com/calvin-sloan/pfawradio-dreamact-1014final
- Radio ad 3 http://soundcloud.com/calvin-sloan/pfawradio-taxes-final-1