Saturday, December 8, 2007

For Latinos, the gusano turns

A new poll reports a shift in political attitudes we might have seen coming from a long way off: No doubt because of the corrosive effects of conservative attitudes on illegal immigration, Hispanic American voters are expressing, in double digits, more of a preference for Democrats than Republicans in the next presidential election — eleven months from now.

“The 2007 National Survey of Latinos shows that the gains that the Republican Party had been making this decade in partisan affiliation among Latinos have dissipated in the past year,” said the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

The survey of registered Hispanic voters by Pew found that they favor Democrats by 57 percent to 23 percent. That advantage for the Democrats has widened since July 2006, when the Pew group found a 21-point difference.

It gets worse for the GOP: Pew found that 41 percent of Hispanic voters found the policies of the Bush administration were harmful, compared to 16 percent who found those policies helpful. Forty-one percent said the Democrats were handling the immigration issue more capably, compared to 14 percent who said the same of Republicans.

That’s a shift in voter preference that’s been suspected anecdotally for some time; the new Pew data makes it more than just idle speculation.

What’s to be seen is how it translates to actual turnout. An earlier study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that while Hispanics accounted for half the nation's population growth between the 2000 and 2004 elections, they accounted for just one-tenth of the increase in the votes cast.

The more recent Pew survey suggests that historical non-appearance at the polls is likely to change – powered in no small part by the rising attention to the immigration issue as championed by Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo in his divisive and xenophobic presidential campaign, which didn’t begin until months after the earlier Pew study was released.

That likely jump in voter participation isn’t a guess, either: the latest Pew survey, using Census Bureau statistics from this September, and extrapolating from voter behavior in the 2004 vote, estimated that 8.6 million Hispanic voters will turn out in 2008 – an increase of 1 million over 2004.

From the survey: “Hispanics loom as a potential "swing vote" in next year's presidential race. That's because they are strategically located on the 2008 Electoral College map. Hispanics constitute a sizable share of the electorate in four of the six states that President Bush carried by margins of five percentage points or fewer in 2004 –New Mexico (where Hispanics make up 37% of state's eligible electorate); Florida (14%); Nevada (12%) and Colorado (12%). All four are expected to be closely contested once again in 2008.”

For the Republican Party … these are the stakes: To redeem themselves with the fastest-growing minority group in America, already 46 million strong; to start the process of wooing a voting bloc repudiated by conservative ideologues; and to start undoing the serious damage done. If the Pew report is an indicator of what happens next year, the GOP’s efforts would be best started now — to help their chances in 2012.

Image credits: Top: Cesar Bojourquez > Flckr > Licensed under Ceative Commons Attribution 2.5 > Wikipedia. Lower: Andy Thayer > released to public domain

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