by Regina Cantu @ Matt.org
Over the last decade, Latino voters have increased their political power and made a decisive impact in races at all levels, including the presidential election. Among the issues they consider in a candidate’s platform, immigration has been consistently ranked the second-most important concern when deciding whom to vote for in the Latino Decisions’ weekly tracking polls, behind the economy but ahead of jobs, health care, education, and taxes.
Millions of Latino citizens today are former undocumented immigrants who legalized their status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act and other laws, as Latino Decisions points out. As a result, the immigration debate among parties and candidates’ tones in discussing the issue are viewed through a highly personal lens—one that impacts their political behavior at a visceral level.
As reports from the 2010 Census roll in for each of the 50 states, one phenomenon has become very clear: a rapidly growing Hispanic population–one that’s even bigger than was predicted by experts. Indeed, Latino voters have influence in major cities and traditional “gateway” states, as well as diverse regions of the country. Texas and Florida, which have significant Latino populations going back generations, sawLatino voter turnout grow by 31% and 81%, respectively, between 2000 and 2008.
Candidates for political office in these states should especially look not just at how Latino voters are likely to vote in 2010 and beyond, but why. Clearly, the immigration debate has played a crucial role in shaping voters’ view toward the two political parties, and has proven to be a galvanizing force that politicians in both parties need to understand.
Although not traditionally the number-one issue for most Latinos, these voters are now extremely close to the frontlines of the immigration debate, having been through the process themselves and knowing relatives and friends who are still battling with the broken system. In a December 2009 poll of Latino voters by Bendixen & Amandi, 62% of Latino voters said that they personally know someone who is undocumented.
The current immigration debate—including the national attention to Arizona-style anti- immigrant laws and the way many politicians have embraced these harsh, anti-immigrant approaches —has helped catapult immigration from being an important threshold issue to being THE top issue, together with the economy. Images: Life Magazine