7 November 2012

Challenges ahead in ethnic minority voting patterns

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Back in April Frank Sharry of America’s Voice predicted the Hispanic vote would be a huge factor in the upcoming US election, at a parliamentary seminar hosted by British Future. Post-election we thought you might like to re-read his foresight.

Demographic shifts “don’t favour the conservative movement as currently constituted”, said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, speaking on ethnic minority voting patterns in the USA at a British Future parliamentary seminar.

According to Sharry, “going into the election this year, if Obama can keep Romney at 20% with Hispanic voters and maintain support with African-Americans and Asians, he could lose Florida and Ohio, notoriously important swing states, and still win the election.”

In 2008, young black voters had the highest turnout of all ethnic groups, including whites, with 96% of all African-American voters electing Barack Obama. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics and Asians also turned out for Obama.

Sharry analysed the Republican Party’s failure to win over ethnic minority voters in 2008 and also looked forward at this year’s presidential elections and the challenges ahead.

At The Race to the White House in a Changing America session, Sharry said that by the end of this decade, the majority of under 18s in the US will belong to minority groups and by 2050 over 50% of the country will too. While both Asian and African-American populations would increase as a percentage of the US population, from 5% to 9% and 14% to 15% by 2050 respectively, it was Hispanics that will experience the largest growth. By 2050, the percentage of Hispanics was expected to double to become 30% of the total US population, hugely increasing the effect they would have on American politics.

Despite the strong mobilisation of the Hispanic vote for Obama in 2008, there was currently widespread disappointment within the Hispanic community over Obama not following through on immigration-related election promises, he said. Sharry explained that given this, you would expect the Republicans to make a concerted effort to capitalise on the Hispanic vote. However, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s anti-immigration policies have polarised the debate, pushing ethnic minorities back to the Democrats. In one survey, Romney polled at 14% among Latinos, sending shockwaves through the Republican Party.

While demographic shifts will transform America’s political landscape in the future, Sharry spoke of the impact the Hispanic vote has had on previous US presidential elections. Unlike African-Americans, who have historically voted en masse for the Democrats, the Hispanic vote was not nearly as fixed.

In the 2000 election Republican candidate George Bush targeted three swing voting segments, the Hispanic community, married women and Catholics. This strategy won him 44% of the Hispanic vote, a high-water mark for the Republican Party and proof that a substantial number of Hispanics were willing to vote Republican. Most importantly, it helped Bush win the four important swing states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida. Barack Obama did similarly in 2008, when he strongly mobilised Hispanics as well as African-Americans. Out of the Hispanics that registered, 67% voted for him, greatly aiding him in winning the same four states and the presidency.

Burgeoning numbers of Hispanics could potentially alter the political balance in other states as well. Arizona was a good example of a Republican state that faces such a change, said Sharry. Although a large proportion of Hispanics there were ineligible to vote because of youth and citizenship status, strong in-state anti-immigration policies have mobilised them and, as a result, Arizona was in play for the 2012 election. Obama has also mentioned that he intends to focus on North Carolina and Virginia, both of which are historically red states that have sizeable Hispanic populations and young college-educated whites, a demographic that largely votes Democrat.

Sharry highlighted the fact that John McCain had the same amount of white votes as Bush, but still lost the presidential election because of Obama’s strong minority backing. This was in spite of McCain’s history of backing bi-partisan immigration legislature and the considerable effort he made to court Hispanic voters. The Republican Party’s association with anti-immigration policies possibly put Hispanic voters off McCain, he told the seminar.

The Hispanic vote now matters more than ever. Referring to 2012 as a “watershed election”, Sharry emphasised that unless the Republican Party adapts its policies to win over this increasingly important demographic, it will struggle to regain the presidency.

Richard Miranda

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