January 15, 2008

The Race for La Casa Blanca

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The 2008 presidential race has been embodied by change. The successes of Barack Obama and John McCain have represented the desire for change in American politics. Yet a change is occurring that many are not discussing. Hispanics have become a significant segment of the population and the candidate who can capture these newly enfranchised voters will most likely win the election.

The Hispanic population of the United States is expanding and it will become a powerful force in politics. Some numbers may help to explain the extent to which Hispanic voters can exert influence on politics and government. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 there were approximately 44 million Hispanics in the country. In the 2004 presidential election, 47 percent of Hispanics voted. It can be reasonably assumed that the 2008 presidential election will result in a higher voter turnout figure than previous elections. If this is the case, the Hispanic vote can sway the election.

The emerging Hispanic vote is similar to the growth of the black vote during the middle of the 20th century. Blacks migrated to the North in great numbers during the 1940s, and the black electorate only expanded following the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In turn the Democratic Party won the presidency from the 40s to the 70s, with the exception of Eisenhower. In addition, the Democratic Party had control of the Congress for much of the latter half of the 20th century. This shift in party power due, in part, to a change in the composition of the electorate, may give some insight in to the coming impact of the Hispanic vote.

The Democratic Party is the natural home for most Hispanics. The 2006 Current Population Survey reports that 46.9 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. have attained a limited (high school or some college) level of education. In addition, 21.8 percent live below the poverty level whereas only 12.6 percent of the entire U.S. population lives in such conditions. Due to the socio-economic status of most Hispanics living in the U.S., the Democratic Party has the Hispanic vote. The only Republican candidate who Hispanics would support en masse is Senator John McCain, who was one of the main architects of the comprehensive immigration bill. However, the immigration policies of the Republican Party, such as a wall built at the U.S.-Mexican border, a crackdown on employers and massive deportations, certainly do not appeal to Hispanic voters. It now comes down to whether Obama or Clinton will capture the Hispanic vote.

After Iowa and New Hampshire, all of the talk was about the female vote, the independent vote, the youth vote, etc. This was justified, considering that the immigrant populations of Iowa and New Hampshire are, shall we say, not extensive. Nonetheless, as there are more primaries and as the race begins to go national, there will be more focused placed on the Hispanic voting bloc. Black suffrage following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dramatically altered the electorate, and in turn political races. The same principle holds true now. The growing Hispanic population, combined with the contentious issue of immigration, makes the Hispanic vote pivotal. The candidate who can recognize this and capitalize on it will win the White House.

Lee Blum is a Sun blogger. He can be reached at blogs@cornellsun.com.