Immigration steered Latinos to Obama
By Leslie Berestein and John Marelius
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
November 7, 2008
Although economic concerns reduced immigration to nearly a nonissue by the time the presidential campaign drew to a close, political experts believe it was largely responsible for the record turnout of Latino voters Tuesday, 66 percent of whom supported Barack Obama.
With overall voter turnout in Tuesday's election possibly the highest in more than four decades, about 10 million Latinos cast votes nationwide, easily surpassing the goal of 9 million that Latino political organizations had set.
According to national exit poll results analyzed by the Pew Hispanic Center, only 32 percent of Latinos voted for Republican candidate John McCain, in spite of the Arizona senator's track record as a proponent of immigrant-friendly reforms. That total represents a significant drop from what George W. Bush amassed in 2004. Bush received between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote that year and 35 percent in 2000.
Of the nine states that flipped from Bush in 2004 to Obama in 2008, four Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida, where the traditionally Republican Cuban-American base is giving way to more Democratic voters have large Latino populations.
The reasons McCain didn't do better among Latinos are complex, political analysts said. Like the rest of the electorate, Latino voters became more concerned about the economy, the housing crisis, job security and health care in recent months.
But the heated immigration debate that dominated headlines two years ago, when hundreds of thousands marched in San Diego and other cities demanding reforms, may have been the catalyst that sent Latinos to the polls.
It was the immigration issue that drove the process, said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based pollster whose company exit-polled 5,000 Latino voters in Los Angeles and Miami.