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The 2012 US Presidential Elections: The Role Of Latino Population In Deciding The Fate

Posted on April 14, 2012 in Politics

By Girija S. Semuwal:

The United States of America is going to polls this year and one particular segment of U.S. voters is arousing keen interest within pre-election analysis and poll predictions.

No less than the Time magazine has called them- “America’s new decision makers”. A recent cover reads “Yo Decido” or “I decide” and “Why Latinos will pick the next President”; along with displaying faces of many Latino Americans.

Why? The basic reason is simple: sheer numbers. The Hispanics or Latinos constitute the largest ethnic minority group in USA.

A milestone in itself, the Hispanic population explosion in the United States over the past decade has been astonishing. Between 2000 and 2010, i.e. census years, the Latino population grew by 43% to reach 50.5 million, which is 16.3% of the total U.S. population. That would make 1 Latino among every 6 Americans. Latino population increase accounted for over 50% of the total population increase in the country. Not just this; a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau projection estimated that by 2050, 1 in 3 U.S. residents will be Hispanic.

9 to 10% – nearly 1 out of 10 – of all voters in 2012 are estimated to be Hispanic, which is 26% more than last election year. Come November, what would these statistics mean in terms of vote?

Historically, Latinos have generally favoured the Democrats. Anti-immigration positions taken by the Republican Party often hurts them here. In 2008 the state of the economy and employment were top concerns for Hispanics and Latinos but “immigration was never far from their minds”. Their opposition of comprehensive immigration reform was one of the reasons why the Latino vote continued to elude Republicans during the last elections.

This time is no different as leading Republican contender Mitt Romney has said he is against any measure allowing undocumented workers an opportunity to live in the country and gain legal status, including the ‘Dream Act’ – a legislation that would permit those brought to the U.S. illegally as children a chance at legalization if they attended college or joined the military.

But which concern might be a bigger factor this time can be gleaned from the following revelation.

Most of that rapid population rise was not from immigration but from what demographers call “natural increase”: between 2000 and 2008, there were 8.2 million Latino births and only 900,000 Latino deaths — a highly skewed birth ratio. Now, one among every four new-borns in the U.S. is Latino, and every month, at least 50, 000 Latino citizens turn 18.

These stats have a meaning when we see that serious challenges and hardships are faced by this community in all spheres — educational, political, social and cultural. According to a 2010 research publication titled Growing Up Hispanic: Health and Development of Children of Immigrants, “the average Hispanic child grows up in a neighbourhood where nearly 20% of neighbours are poor and nearly half are in extreme poverty (incomes below half the poverty level), more than 40% do not speak English fluently, and 9% of older teens are jobless high-school dropouts.” The book’s contributors posit that while many Hispanic immigrant parents have limited schooling, their children’s education figured centrally in their decision to immigrate.

As a matter of fact, the economic recession decreased the rate of immigration, and this may have had some role to play in it. It’s not unnatural then for Latino Americans to be more concerned about the economic scenario and it might be where their real interests lay.

Republicans can’t hope to win a national majority in Hispanic votes. However, if they can use the economy refrain to win over the Latino electorate of ‘swing states’ like New Mexico and Florida — that have a history of voting either party – then they would have significantly brought down President Obama’s chances to win a second term. In January, Republican Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, was noted saying that his party’s candidates should watch the “tone” on issues such as illegal immigration to start appealing to independent-minded voters in states such as Florida as these voters are likely to decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

Counting elections from the early 1990s, Republicans always secure at least 20% or more vote share among Latinos Americans while Democrats have never gone below 55%. This still leaves 25% of the Latino vote to take home. Mitt Romney, reportedly, is building his campaign to woo Latino voters, hoping that 2012 will see more of the anti-incumbency wave in response to the state of the U.S. economy.

And it’s not just analysts and political parties. Latinos themselves realize their voter-power. Which is why they are proclaiming “Nosotros vamos a decider” — “we will decide”. The meaning of being a minority, it so seems, has changed forever.