This time yes, latinos were decisive

The electoral polls in 2012 were as accurate as they have ever been. The battle between Obama and Romney was very tight, and as I argued here yesterday, the superior organization of the president’s team, the so-called ground game, made the difference.

However, there is one more key factor that I would like to stress today: the latino vote. Some pundits, and many latino leaders, contended that it was decisive for Obama’s victory in 2008, but that’s exactly not true. Four years ago, the size of the victory was quite big, so even without a huge latino turnout, Obama would have defeated McCain.

Yesterday it was a different story. Romney got around 60% of the “white vote”, improving by 4 points McCain’s performance in 2008. Impressive. Nonetheless, that was not enough because latinos voted again overwhelmingly for Obama. In fact, the president even raised his support among latinos a few percentages points.

It is obvious that latinos were crucial in Nevada, Florida and Colorado, three “swing states” where latinos represent an important chunk of the electorate. But, from my point of view, without them, Obama may have not carried Ohio and Virginia, two states that Obama won yesterday by a small margin.

The president was able to assemble a similar demographic coalition than in 2008, formed by young people, women and minorities. But the strong support Obama received from latinos was not something granted just a few months ago. When I left the US, one year ago, there was a deep dissatisfaction with the president because he did not fulfill his electoral promise to deliver immigration reform, that is, to pass a law would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the US.

There were two reasons why this changed: the tough (and racist) anti-immigration law in Arizona sponsored by Governor Jan Brewer, and the recent passing of the Dream Act, a law that prevents the deportation of young undocumented students. The position of the Republican Party on these two laws created the perception among latinos that it is definitely an anti-latino party, pushing them to support Obama.

One of the big questions today, the day after the big battle, is how republicans will interpret this result: Did they lose because of their policies or their candidate? Should they stick to the same policies and just hope for a better candidate in 2016? Should they move in the question of inmigration to reconcile with latino voters? Or they should rather move to the center in social and economic questions?

Depending on how republican leaders answer these questions, the US will be able to move forward, and make some necessary reforms, or its political scene will remain in gridlock. In any case, what it is clear is that the Republican Party has a “latino problem”. And if they don’t address it, it will get worse and worse.

Just think of this data: latinos represent around 15% of the US population, but latino newborn babies amount to close to 30%, which means that in the coming decades latinos will always represent a larger percentage of the electorate than the previous election. Obama owes a “thank you” note to Governor Brewer.

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