President Obama is counting on Latinos. But will they be counted?
After an unexpectedly commanding debate performance by Mitt Romney last week, Obama will be looking at his strongest constituencies for help. The most important of these constituencies: increasingly it looks like Hispanics.
The Obama faithful woke up Friday morning with two welcome news items. First there was the September jobs report (announcing that the unemployment rate fell to its lowest since Obama took office). The second was a series of articles beginning with a feature in The Hill with this headline: “New polls show Obama crushing Romney among swing-state Hispanics.” The Hill cited huge leads for Obama with Latino voters in Nevada and Florida, the latter which could very well prove to be the most important battleground this election.
But the question on the minds of some Hispanic voter watchers is, “Will Hispanics turn out to vote?” A few weeks ago, I posted an article in Forbes naming complacent Democrats as Obama’s greatest enemy. With the disappointing debate in Denver this week, we can remind all Democrats about the danger of complacency. But there’s cause for concern that complacency and contentment for the Hispanic vote may be the gravest danger of all for Democrats.
First, as The Washington Post reported last week, a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Hispanics “are responsible for a smaller portion of the electorate than many might expect.” Reason? Says the Post: “the majority of the country’s Hispanic population (55 percent) is simply not eligible to vote.”
While of course that’s true, it doesn’t refute all the polls that show Obama well ahead with Hispanics who are eligible voters. But it might put a damper on all the enthusiasm that’s been built up regarding the expected Hispanic voter tidal wave this fall. A more troubling storyline is about eligible Hispanic voters who simply do not vote. According to Pew, the “turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged that of whites and blacks by substantial margins. In 2008, for example, 50% of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65% of blacks and 66% of whites.” It would be foolish to assume a big difference this fall.
But most challenging is complacency itself. It’s clear that Hispanics represent a huge swath of voters who mostly will vote Democrat this fall. But it’s also true that the race is so tight that it may all come down to which campaign is more adept at getting its base to actually vote. I expect the ground game – getting out the vote – for each campaign to become the real advantage in the final weeks. For Democrats, the game is not just about Hispanics. But in Florida and a couple of other swing states where Hispanics are well represented, it is probably more Hispanic than in any other presidential election in history.
Expect a big focus on the battleground states where Hispanics are big. It’s not the only game in town, but by no means is it a sideshow.
Election image on home page via Shutterstock.
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