Co-authored with Levi J. Jordan and David Schreiner.
On November 2, Americans head to the polls for mid-term elections that will likely have a profound impact on the ability of U.S. President Barack Obama to advance his legislative agenda. Among those who could play an integral part in deciding the balance of power are Hispanics, who account for more than 15.8 percent of the overall U.S. population and close to 8 percent of registered voters. But even if Latinos are far more likely to vote for Democrats than the electorate at large, the question remains as to whether they’ll turn out to vote in large numbers.
Though the outcome of this year’s midterm election revolves around myriad issues, the immigration debate will likely affect which way many Hispanic voters lean. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conducted a June 2010 poll in California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas—states holding competitive gubernatorial and senatorial races—that showed immigration ranking as the top issue affecting how registered Latinos will vote in those states. Arizona’s passage of controversial immigration law SB1070 was seen as a slight by many Latino voters, including registered Republicans.
But whether they express their frustration at the voting booth depends on if they show up. A new Pew Hispanic Center survey shows that Latinos support Democratic candidates at a rate of 65 percent compared to 22 percent for Republicans. But the same survey finds that Latino voter intention rates run at almost 20 percent less than the electorate as a whole. Moreover, the poll shows that Hispanic Republicans are more likely to vote than their Democrat counterparts. The Democratic Party appears to be disenchanting voters due to the U.S. Congress’ seeming inability to move forward on immigration reform and the fact that Latinos suffer a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Still, Republicans may not want to count their chickens before they’re hatched. Recent data by Latino Decisions shows Hispanics overwhelmingly blame former President George W. Bush over Obama for the country’s economic woes and feel the Democrats are more likely to make correct economic decisions.
The Latino vote and the immigration debate could impact a number of elections across the country. Here’s a selection of those races:
California: Jerry Brown (D) vs. Meg Whitman (R)
Whitman seemed to be closing in on Brown with her hard stance on immigration, but recent furor over her past employment of an undocumented immigrant has taken center stage. Latinos represent an aggressively courted 21 percent of the state electorate. Given that a majority of Hispanic voters support Brown, their turnout on election day could help decide who will serve as the next governor.
Florida: Alex Sink (D) vs. Rick Scott (R)
With the backing of Miami’s three Republican, Cuban-American members of the U.S. Congress, Scott hopes to capture Hispanic votes that have long dominated the state’s political leaning and protect his small edge in a race that is still considered a tossup.
Georgia: Roy Barnes (D) vs. Nathan Deal (R)
Deal holds a small lead, running on a platform advocating the end of birthright citizenship and strict immigration laws a la Arizona.
Nevada: Rory Reid (D) vs. Brian Sandoval (R)
The son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trails Republican Brian Sandoval, a Latino who has been mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate.
New Mexico: Diane Denish (D) vs. Susana Martinez (R)
Both candidates have voiced disapproval for neighboring Arizona’s SB 1070, but Martinez’ lead has been growing since May and some polls put her 10 points ahead of her rival as of October 1.
Texas: Rick Perry (R) vs. Bill White (D)
For White, who trails by a small margin, unseating incumbent Perry requires that he capture at least 50 percent of the Latino vote, the “sleeping giant of Texas politics.”
California: Barbara Boxer (D) vs. Carly Fiorina (R)
Hispanic voter turnout will likely decide this tight race, in which incumbent Boxer holds a nearly 40 percent lead among Latino voters but a single digit lead overall.
Colorado: Michael Bennet (D) vs. Ken Buck (R)
Tea Party candidate Buck, who advocates tougher immigration policy, leads Democratic incumbent Bennet by a small margin. Democrats in Colorado have traditionally benefited from Latino support so poor voter turnout could hurt Bennet.
Florida: Charlie Crist (I) vs. Kendrick Meek (D) vs. Mark Rubio (R)
Latinos represent more than 12 percent of registered voters in Florida, where media sensation and son of Cuban refugees Rubio holds a small lead. He supports Arizona-style immigration that Crist and trailing Meek oppose.
Nevada: Sharron Angle (R) vs. Harry Reid (D)
The Senate majority leader is in a heated battle against the insurgent Tea Party candidate, with some polls conflicting over who will win. Angle’s campaign released a series of ads charging Reid with showing too much consideration for illegal immigrants. While Angle has sought to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment, some say Reid made a move to attract Hispanic voters through his recent attempt to force a legislative vote on the DREAM Act. Latinos account for 26 percent of Nevadas voters.
Florida: Alan Grayson (D) vs. Daniel Webster
In the Orlando-based 8th district, the increasingly Hispanic population has created a slim plurality of Democratic voters. Incumbent Grayson trails by 10 points and his reelection depends on his ability to get Latinos, whom he sees as a contested group, to show up on election day.
Florida: Joe Garcia (D) vs. David Rivera (R)
Two Cuban-Americans face off for the 25th district seat in southern Florida, with Garcia seeking the much-touted and growing moderate Cuban-American vote. But he faces a challenge from Rivera, who caused a stir last month when he called Garcia a “henchman” of the Castro regime. Though Garcia is favored to win, his victory depends on whether the moderate Cuban-American vote materializes.
- AS/COA’s Hispanic Integration Hub.
- AS/COA resource guide to SB 1070.
- AS/COA Hemispheric Update on immigration legislation, including laws that mimic Arizona’s.
- Pew Hispanic Center survey.
- Latino Decisions polling on mid-term elections and public opinion.
- RealClearPolitics offers an interactive look at the congressional races across the country.
- TIME video about Florida’s Hispanic voters’ “independent streak.”