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Assessing Obama's Appeal Among Latino Voters

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Assessing Obama's Appeal Among Latino Voters


Assessing Obama's Appeal Among Latino Voters

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This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. Long before Barack Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes We Can," there was the Spanish version, "Si Se Puede." But Senator Obama hasn't gotten a lot of traction among Latino voters. Hillary Clinton won the lion's share of Latino vote in the primaries, and even though Clinton has now endorsed Obama for the general election, no one is sure if Latinos will follow suit. We've got three experts on Latino-American politics to help us get the big picture. First we're going to talk with Mark Lopez, the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Hey, Mark.

Mr. MARK LOPEZ (Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center): Hi, how are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So now that all the information is in, how did Latinos vote overall on the Democratic primaries?

Mr. LOPEZ: In the Democratic primaries they were overwhelmingly voting for Hillary Clinton, almost two-to-one across just about every single primary with the exception of Arizona and Illinois. But beyond those two, pretty strong support for Hillary Clinton.

CHIDEYA: So Obama tried various things to change the math. And you know, is there a difference, for example, generationally between older and younger Latinos, and also between different demographic groups, as there are so many different groups from different cultures?

Mr. LOPEZ: Well it looked like the support for Hillary Clinton was pretty uniform across all different demographic groups and across all different Hispanic ethnicities. While it's true that among young Latinos we did see a little bit stronger support for Obama than among older Latinos, young Latinos on Super Tuesday, for example, did vote for Hillary Clinton.

CHIDEYA: Now, Puerto Rico got its chance to go to the polls at the end of the primary season. Here was an Obama ad, and it begins with a photo visually of the entire Obama family.

(Soundbite of television advertisement)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): (Spanish Spoken)

CHIDEYA: Now, Senator Clinton took Puerto Rico, but did an ad like this at least show a good faith attempt by the Obama campaign to really say, hey, we've got a big tent and it includes you.

Mr. LOPEZ: Absolutely. I certainly think that that's what we're probably going to see more from Senator Obama as the campaign goes forward. But yeah, I would certainly say that that is the case. Particularly we started to see him do some of this for Texas and again in Puerto Rico.

CHIDEYA: How important is Spanish and, you know, you can be Latino and not speak Spanish and of course you can be non-Latino and speak Spanish. But when we talk about Spanish language advertising, how critical is that?

Mr. LOPEZ: Well a large part of the adult population of Latinos are foreign-born, and a significant number of those speak either Spanish primarily or watch Spanish news media. So if you wanted to reach out to a large segment of the Latino population, that is those who might be of an immigrant background but are U.S. citizens and therefore eligible to vote, certainly Spanish language media is going to be important for reaching out to those - to that particular constituency. I would certainly also say, though, that while Spanish is important and the candidate being able to speak Spanish and communicate to Latinos is great, it's probably not the key factor. It's an important factor but not a key factor.

CHIDEYA: So at Pew, how are you really trying to track the Latino vote? I mean, you know, for one, it - you know, maybe break down some of the demographics a little bit for us. You talk about the large number of people who are foreign-born, but then there's also many different cultures under this umbrella and the census which says, OK, this is not a race it's an ethnicity and mark this box - and there's all sorts of issues. Just give is a brief primmer on them.

Mr. LOPEZ: Sure. The Latino population is made up of several different ethnicities. And we think about Latinos at the Pew Hispanic Center, we're always thinking about important differences or what we might call important lines along which you are going to see differences in attitudes and differences in opinions. So for example in ethnicity, Mexican-Americans are the single largest group of Latinos, but there are significant populations of Puerto Rican and Cuban-Americans who are in the United States as well. But growing recently has been a really large Central American population, primarily Salvadoreno (ph) and also Juata Meteco (ph).

So you see many different new groups coming in with the most recent wave of immigration. So it's a tremendously diverse population. One other big thing about Latinos is that Latinos are very young. Over a third of Latinos are under the age of 30. So you have a huge chunk of the Latino population, more so than white or black, being young. And that, of course, portends to greater, perhaps, Latino political voice in the future, though that remains to be seen. We will see what happens in the future. But at the moment. Latinos are much younger.

So those two factors are really big in explaining who Latinos are, and of course the big third one is immigration. Among adult Latinos 18 and over, over half are actually foreign-born. So we're talking about a population that's primarily foreign-born, or largely foreign-born for those, for adults. Among young people though, those under the age of 18, it's the exact opposite. It's mostly native-born. So you've got a real diversity within the population on many different dimensions.

CHIDEYA: Well great, Mark. Stay with us. Great update, and we've also got a couple more folks to add to the mix.

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