Will Latinos vote in the Midterm elections?

On Oct. 20 we had our weekly colloquium in the Department of Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara where I teach. Our speaker was Prof. David Ayon, who is affiliated with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and who is an expert on Latino politics.

What he had to say was quite interesting and sobering.

Ayon believes that the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections and that the Republicans will gain over 50 seats. They only need 39 to become the majority party.

However, Ayon does not believe that the Republicans will win the Senate.

As for the Latino vote that is increasingly coveted by both parties, he does not believe that -- in an election year such as this, where it appears that it won’t be too close of a vote -- the Latino vote will be decisive, unlike two years ago when 10 million Latinos voted and represented about 10 percent of the national vote.

That vote count was a record high and it went overwhelmingly to President Obama and the Democrats. Obama won about 70 percent of the Latino vote. That made a difference in such states as Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada.

This strong Latino vote, Ayon believes, will not be duplicated Nov. 2.

According to polls, only 50 percent of registered Latinos say they will vote this year. This is not promising for the Democrats. Latinos favor Democrats over Republicans 2 to 1.

Ayon notes that although Latino support for Obama is still quite high -- about 65 percent of Latinos believe he is doing a good job -- this rating has been going down from a high of well over 80 percent in 2009.

According to Ayon, the issue that has hurt the president with Latinos most has been his reneging on his promise to promote immigration reform in his first year.

To many Latinos immigration reform is not just seen as a practical issue, but also as a symbol of respect for the growth of Latino political power.

While most Latinos are U.S. born and are not directly affected by immigration reform, they still see this issue as one that symbolizes their arrival as key American political actors. The failure to pass such reform is interpreted by Latinos as an affront to their growing political status.

If the Democrats lose the House, Ayon believes this will hurt the significant political power that the Latino Caucus (all Democrats) in that body has accumulated.

This, he notes, will set back the Latino political agenda -- including immigration reform -- not only in Congress but also nationally.

At the same time this setback will not be the story that comes out of the midterm elections, Ayon said.

Instead, if Republican Latinos win the Florida Senate race and the governorships in New Mexico and Nevada, as he believes they will, one of the main stories from the election will be the rise of Latino leaders in the Republican Party -- even though these candidates do not support the Latino political agenda rooted in Democratic Party issues on such issues as jobs, education, health reform, and immigration reform.

Listening to David Ayon was not good news to my ears. But at the same time I know that -- irrespective of the outcome in the midterm elections -- the Latino population will continue to grow and to increasingly play a major role in all walks of American life and institutions.

This will not be a threat to basic American political traditions or values, as some nativists and other believe, but instead will only reinforce them -- just with a Latino emphasis.

Latinos believe in the same American democratic values -- based on social justice -- as most other Americans and their rise to political influence in this century will only expand those values.

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