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POLITICS-US: Latino Voters Heavily Favour Obama

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Jul 24 2008 (IPS) - Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is preferred by a nearly a three-to-one margin over his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, among Latinos who are registered to vote, according to a major new poll released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Centre.

A January 2008 campaign event by Latinos for Obama. Credit: Obama campaign

A January 2008 campaign event by Latinos for Obama. Credit: Obama campaign

Two-thirds of the nearly 900 Latino voters surveyed said they would likely vote for Obama in the November presidential elections, compared to only 23 percent – or less than one in four – who said they preferred McCain at this stage in the campaign.

“The presumptive Democratic nominee’s strong showing in this survey represents a sharp reversal in his fortunes from the (Democratic) primary elections, when Obama lost the Latino vote to Hillary Clinton by a nearly two-to-one ratio, giving rise to speculation in some quarters that Hispanics were disinclined to vote for a black candidate,” wrote Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director, and Susan Minushkin, deputy director of the Pew Hispanic Centre.

On the contrary, three times as many respondents (32 percent) said being black would actually help Obama with Latino voters than said it would hurt him (11 percent). The rest of respondents said his being black would make no difference to how Hispanics will vote in the fall.

The poll results should come as a major blow to the McCain and the Republicans who had hoped that their candidate would at least approach President George W. Bush’s performance among Latinos in the 2004 elections in which he is estimated to have captured between 40 and 44 percent of their votes, by far the best showing by a Republican presidential candidate over the last two decades.

As noted by the Hispanic Centre’s report, Latinos are one of the most sought-after voting groups in the election. Both candidates made major policy addresses at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza two weeks ago.

While Hispanics constitute the largest ethnic minority, with about 15 percent of the total U.S. population, they make up only nine percent of registered voters, lagging behind African Americans, the country’s second largest minority.

African Americans are the most reliably Democratic of all demographic groups, and recent polls indicate that Obama could get 90 percent or more of their votes this year. Yet the electoral influence of Hispanic voters is significant both because they tend to be more independent in their voting patterns, and because they make up a disproportionately large percentage of the voting population in such key “battleground” or “swing” states in this year’s election as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

While the largest concentrations of Hispanics – indeed, two-thirds of the total U.S. Latino population – are actually found in California, Texas, New York, and Illinois, political pros believe the results in each state is all but certain. While Texas is reliably Republican, the other three will almost certainly be won by Obama.

The survey also spells bad news for the Republican Party, which had hoped that the 2004 election results heralded a long-term trend that would bring a majority of the country’s largest and fastest-growing minority into its fold. By 2050, nearly three of every 10 citizens (29 percent) will likely be Hispanic, according to recent estimates.

But the poll found that 54 percent of Latino registered voters identify themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the Democratic Party, compared to 26 percent who said they considered themselves or preferred Republicans. Pew pointed out that the gap was the largest in more than a decade.

Moreover, 55 percent of Hispanic voters said the Democratic Party was better for Latinos, while only six percent said the Republican Party was better.

The reversal of fortune for Republicans compared to merely four years ago may be due in major part to the bitter divide that opened up within the party over Bush’s proposals for immigration reform. While Democrats – and McCain, for that matter – supported Bush’s reform package, which, among other things, featured a process for legalising the presence of the 12 million undocumented immigrants who reside in the U.S., most Republican lawmakers opposed it.

Respondents said they trusted Obama more than McCain to deal with immigration by a 59 percent to 19 percent margin.

At the same time, however, immigration rated relatively low among the issues of greatest interest to the same respondents. Some nine out of 10 respondents named education (93 percent), the cost of living (92 percent), jobs (91 percent), and health care (90 percent) as their top issues, while three out of four cited immigration as “extremely” or “very important”, the same percentage as those who cited the Iraq war.

As noted by the Hispanic Centre, Democrats had been worried that Latinos who favoured Clinton over Obama in the primary elections might be inclined to vote for McCain in the November election, both because of his relative moderation on the immigration issue and because of the widespread perception that, in the words of one prominent Hispanic pollster, Sergio Bendixen, “the Hispanic voter …has not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates.” The latest poll, however, clearly undermines the latter notion.

More than three out of four (77 percent) of Latinos who told Pew that they voted for Clinton in the primaries said they now favour Obama, while only eight percent said they favoured McCain. The Centre’s analysis noted that, in that respect, Obama is doing better among Hispanic Clinton supporters than non-Hispanic Clinton supporters, 18 percent of whom have told pollsters that they now intend to vote for McCain.

Similarly, 76 percent of Latino registered voters said they have a “favourable” impression of Obama, compared to a minority of 44 percent who said the same about Obama. Only 17 percent said their impression of Obama was “unfavourable”; 47 percent assessed McCain unfavourably.

The survey found that Catholic Latino voters, who make up 56 percent of all registered Hispanic voters, tended to support Obama by a higher percentage (71 percent) than their non-Catholic counterparts, a finding that could reflect the more-conservative influence of the fast-growing evangelical Protestant churches in the Latino community.

The survey was conducted by telephone between Jun. 9 and mid-July. More than 2,000 respondents were interviewed in either Spanish or English. Of these, 892 said they were registered voters.

A second poll released Thursday and sponsored by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found that Obama was favoured by only 52 percent of Hispanic voters compared to 32 percent who said they preferred McCain. But that poll was based on a much smaller sample.

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