Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Si se puede!: Obama and the Latino Vote

by Shannon K. O'Neil
November 11, 2008

Nearly 10 million Latinos voted last Tuesday, setting a new record. They made up between 8% and 9% of the total vote, slightly more than in 2004. Hispanic votes shares did jump significantly in a few swing states – up 9% in New Mexico, and 5% in both Colorado and Nevada.

Tuesday’s results show that Latinos were crucial in many states that switched from red to blue. In 2004 56% of Florida’s Latinos (639,225) voted for George Bush, propelling him to a 5% (380,978 vote) victory. This time around, 634,500 Latinos—57%—voted for Obama, propelling him to victory with a 2.5% (204,577 votes) margin. Despite the still solid Republican vote of Florida’s Cuban-Americans, the growing non-Cuban Latinos pushed Obama over the top. Latino votes for Obama also exceeded his margin of victory in Colorado and New Mexico. In Nevada and Virginia, Latino votes also played an important, if not decisive, role in moving Nevada and Virginia into the Obama camp. All told, without the Latino vote, Obama would have won 41 fewer electoral college votes. Not a deal breaker, but this demographic helped orchestrate his electoral college landslide last Tuesday.

Nearly one out of every two new Americans is Latino, meaning this demographic could increasingly dominate the future electorate. But to do so, they have to get out the vote. While 10 million voters is a record, it means that nearly 7 million eligible Latino voters didn’t make it to the polls. That places Latino turnout at 58% – below the country’s 62%, and particularly lower than white voters’ 67% . To strengthen their political heft, and shape the issues that matter to them such as education, the cost of living, jobs, health care, and immigration, turnout will have to increase. As Latinos expand to become 30% of our population (expected by 2042) the question will be whether this population resides in the heart, rather than the margins, of American democracy.

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