“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.
In 2010, the Hispanic electoral tidal wave dissipated. Latino voters, along with Asian voters, mainly avoided the 2010 election. A record 14.7 million Hispanic voters, in effect, sat on their hands for the 2010 race, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The absence from the ballot boxes of so many Hispanic voters hurt many Democrats.
Fewer than 31 percent of eligible Hispanic and Asian voters went to the polls in the 2010 congressional elections, compared with 49 percent of eligible white voters and 44 percent of eligible black voters, the Pew report said.
The picture of minority voting comes in the wake of a poll showing the support for Obama among Latinos down by more than 25 percent from what it was at the start of his administration, should send shivers up Democratic spines—even of those who are spineless on many issues.
More signs that the Obama “spell” is fading: After winning 67% of the Latino vote in 2008, only 43 percent of Hispanics polled by Univision—the Spanish language TV network in the U.S.– at the end of last July said Obama has addressed their needs. Another 32 percent indicated they were uncertain, while 21 percent said they believe Obama has done a poor job.
A meeting of Republicans in South Florida aimed at extending the GOP’s outreach to Latino voters was co-chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The conference was organized by the new Hispanic Action Network. It is one of a number of Republican efforts to influence Latino voters before the 2012 election.
CNN reported in 2010 that 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for Republican candidates, compared to only 29 percent in 2008. Significantly, Republican Susana Martinez was elected governor of New Mexico (46 percent Hispanic population), Brian Sandoval became governor of Nevada (27 percent Hispanic population) and Marco Rubio won the U.S. Senate race in Florida (23 percent Hispanic).
Exit polls indicated that 38 percent of Latino voters voted for House Republican candidates in 2010. This “despite pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that a pro-rule-of-law stand would alienate Hispanic voters,” wrote Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) June 2 in Politico. Five Hispanic Republicans were elected to the House. “They focused on patriotism, rule of law, freedom, family, support for small business, jobs, and education,” Smith wrote.
Most of these are fundamental values from which President Obama has distanced himself.
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