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“Buenas Tardes” (good afternoon). Barack Obama greeted a crowd of Puerto Ricans in Spanish in San Juan on a presidential visit intended to shore up support of roughly 4.6 million Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland. The Puerto Ricans on the island can’t vote for president even though they’re U.S. citizens.
The Obama campaign machine is striving desperately to recapture the Hispanic vote. In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic voters nationally. The president’s failure to enact an immigration law and vigorously crack down on undocumented workers, however, has caused his glamour to tarnish a bit. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll in late March found that his Latino support had slid to 60 percent.
As of July 2009, 48.4 million people of Hispanic origin lived in the U.S. Today, it’s 50.5 million, the country’s largest ethnic or race minority.
During his welcoming ceremony in San Juan, Obama tried to scrape together Hispanic favor by saying that he would support whatever decision the Island makes about statehood—a long standing dispute over statehood or independence.
The recession has hit Puerto Rico like a small hurricane. The jobless rate is 17 percent, compared to the latest unemployment figure for the U.S. of 9.1 percent. Referring to unemployment, Obama, in a lame statement, said, “These problems didn’t develop overnight here in Puerto Rico or anywhere else, but that means we’re not going to solve them overnight. But day by day, step by step, we will solve them.”
Obama flew to Puerto Rico from campaign stops in North Carolina and Florida to play up to more Latinos. North Carolina has about 380,000 Hispanics. In Florida there are about 840,000 Puerto Ricans.
While the Democrats have the Hispanic vote for 2012 in their headlights, some disconcerting facts that are not well known should dampen their enthusiasm. Despite the overly rapid growth of Latinos, many are far too young to vote. More than a third of Latinos (34.9 percent) are now below the voting age of 18, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Hispanics comprise 22 percent of all U.S. children younger than 18. Some 43 percent of married couples who are Hispanic have children under age 18. Twenty percent of all elementary and high school students combined are Hispanic. They won’t be voting any time soon.
While 67 percent of eligible Hispanics voted for Obama in 2008, voter turnout of Latinos lags behind whites (48.6 percent), and 44 percent of eligible blacks. That compares to less than a third (31.2 percent ) of eligible Latino voters who said they voted. Only 42 percent of the Latino population — for one reason or another — is eligible to vote. Among Latinos who go to the polls, those age 18 to 28 had the lowest turnout—17.5 percent. Obama’s glory seems to be disappearing among youthful worshipers.
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