Next month, as many as 10 million Latinos are expected to vote in the presidential election. They could have an especially strong impact in four battleground states: Nevada, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico. Despite what some political observers suggest, most of them will be thinking about more than just the immigration issue.
And, if polls are correct and current trends hold up, more than two-thirds of Latino voters will wind up supporting Barack Obama. Only 23 percent of Latino voters support John McCain, current polls show. Without a shift in Latino support between now and election day, McCain would fall significantly short of the 35 percent of the Latino vote than Republicans need to win the White House. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did very well in courting Latino voters, earning about 40 percent of the Latino vote in their 1984 and 2004 re-elections. And throughout his political career in Arizona, McCain did even better, routinely capturing more than 60 percent.
So what went wrong for McCain with Latinos, and right for Obama? And what does it means beyond this election in a country that is becoming more Latino every year?
Television viewers might get some answers from a new and interesting documentary, entitled "Latinos '08," which will be broadcast Wednesday night in many television markets by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS). One thing the program makes clear is that this subject is much more nuanced and complicated than many people imagine. For instance, most Latinos are registered Democrats, but they have shown a willingness to support moderate Republicans without surrendering their party affiliation. They come from different countries, advocate different agendas, and represent different generations, social status, education levels, and political philosophies. And yet they have also demonstrated they can come together as one community when they're under attack, as many Latinos claim is true with the immigration issue.
Director Philip Rodriguez has done a masterful job of drawing the complexities of Latino voters in ways that help us better understand America. We can only hope elected officials and political parties take time to study the portrait and treat the Latino electorate with the respect it deserves.
REPRINTED FROM THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE.