Buenos Dias, Swing Voter

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Sep 15 16:52:23 UTC 2004

>>From the NYTimes,


September 15, 2004
Buenos Dias, Swing Voter

Unlike African-Americans - who as a constituency are overwhelmingly
Democratic - Latinos are a little more mysterious with their intentions at
the polls. In a year in which politicians expect to live or die by the
swing vote, Hispanic voters are like catnip to the presidential
candidates. Tilt a few of the expected seven million Latino ballots this
way or that in a few battleground states, and the election can be won, or
so the strategists believe. That's why Latinos in Florida, New Mexico,
Arizona, Nevada and Colorado are being saturated by political ads on radio
and television and in print, ads that are being bought like never before
in Spanish.

With less than two months remaining in the race, spending on
Spanish-language ads by the campaigns and political groups has already
topped the total in 2000 - more than $4 million so far, with Democrats
outspending Republicans three to one, according to Adam Segal of the
Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University. Since most Hispanic
Americans speak English, the ads seem most likely to reach immigrants who
prefer Spanish-language media. In the larger electorate, that's a very
small group - but in this election voters tend to be valued not by their
numbers but by their locations. Considering that the margin of victory in
both Florida and New Mexico was in just three digits in the 2000 vote, the
investment could pay off.

Hispanic voters are diverse in culture and traditions. Americans with
ancestries that are Mexican, Puerto Rican and Central American have a
history of most often voting with the Democrats. Most Cuban-Americans have
been dependable voters for the Republicans. Newcomers across the spectrum,
however, are seen as different - free from deep-seated party loyalties and
perhaps more receptive to overtures of "Viva Bush" on the one hand, or
"Unidos con Kerry" on the other. Regardless of how the parties say it,
it's bienvenidos to American politics all the way around.

Latinos are now the nation's largest minority group, and no president in
modern times has won without at least 30 percent of their votes. The
Latino courtship started last September, when Democratic hopefuls held a
bilingual debate before the primaries.

The Democratic convention had the nation's only Hispanic governor, Bill
Richardson of New Mexico, as its chairman. And in his acceptance speech at
the Republican convention, President Bush exercised his bilingual muscles,
saying, "No dejaremos a ningn nio atrs - we will leave no child behind."
Senator John Kerry has spoken before several major Latino groups and seems
to have an easier time with Spanish pronunciation. It's all a far cry from
campaigns of yesteryear, when a candidate could get away with just posing
with mariachis, eating empanadas or dancing a rumba.

What should not get lost in the translation, though, are some things that
haven't changed. Hispanic students are still the most likely to drop out
of high school. One-third of Latinos don't have access to health care. And
employment opportunities remain elusive in the barrios and beyond. The
campaigns need to address the issues with more than just slogans -
regardless of the language.


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