Iowa experts unsure which way Latino vote will swing in 2012


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Experts say the Latino vote will play an important role in determining whether President Obama will remain in office for another four years.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the Latino population voted in favor of the Democrats by 67 percent in 2008, while only accounting for 53 percent of the Democratic vote in 2004. While the Latino vote has been widely Democratic in the last three elections, experts said, they aren’t sure who the Latino population will support in 2012.

“… President Obama swung [the Democratic vote] back for a variety of reasons,” University of Iowa Associate Professor of political science Tim Hagle said. “But this doesn’t necessarily mean that trend is going to continue into this election.”

Many experts, including Hagle, describe the Latino vote as a pendulum that may swing from the left back towards the center in the upcoming presidential election, caused by candidates overlooking key issues affecting the Latino population.

But Rene Rocha, a UI assistant professor of political science, said the government hasn’t neglected the issues.

“I think President Obama has been unable to make large immigration reforms because much of his attention has been focused on broader economic policies,” Rocha said. “Obama tried and failed to pass the Dream Act, but through other avenues has been able to make some reforms that have been quite influential.”

UI student Crystal Nuci, a member of the Latino community, believes the Republican effort to gain the Latino vote will fall short.

“I think it would be hard for Republicans to get more of the Latino vote because the values that have been instilled in us lend themselves toward the mindset of the Democrats,” she said.

In the last presidential election, Obama earned 95 percent of the African American vote, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. But the Latino community doesn’t share the same level of uniformity, Hagle said.

“One way Republicans can get the Latino vote is by focusing on some of the social issues that Latinos typically remain conservative on,” he said. “The important thing is to target the wedge issues which can divide people and get them to affiliate with one party or the other.”

He said those social issues include abortion, economic policy, and immigration.

Experts said the only way to swing the vote is to find a Republican candidate willing to take a more liberal stance on these issues.

“If Republicans want to gain a greater portion of the Latino vote, they will have to talk about immigration in a more ethnic neutral way and become more liberal on some economic policies,” Rocha said.

In an effort to specifically target the Latino community, candidates often run advertisements in Spanish and on occasion address largely Latino crowds by speaking Spanish. A total of $4,039,340 alone was spent by both parties to broadcast 14 Spanish-language advertisements related to the presidential campaign from April 3 to Nov. 5, 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“Utilizing advertisements in Spanish shows a certain level of respect and a form of getting their message across that I believe the Hispanic voters react to well,” Hagle said.

But Rocha said that doesn’t have a large effect on the Latino community because it’s seen as “symbolic appeals instead of substantive appeals.”

“It doesn’t really make a difference that candidates speak or advertise in Spanish,” UI student Alejandra Gonzalez said. “They just need more voters so it’s kind of a means to an end for them.”

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