Latino Voting in 2008: Part of a Broader Electoral Movement

James G. Gimpel, Center for Immigration Studies, January 27, 2009

In the 2004 general election, President Bush garnered perhaps 39 or 40 percent of the Latino vote. Four years later, after extensive debate on immigration, Sen. McCain received approximately 32 percent of the Latino vote. Some have suggested that the GOP’s stance on immigration has hindered political gains among Hispanic voters.

The Center for Immigration Studies has released a new Backgrounder challenging that assertion. “Latino Voting in the 2008 Election: Part of a Broader Electoral Movement,” by Prof. James G. Gimpel of the University of Maryland, argues that GOP losses in the election were not limited to Hispanic voters and not affected by the immigration debate.

Among the findings:

# Exit polls from Election Day indicated that President Barack Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, and John McCain 32 percent. This compares to estimates of Latino support for George W. Bush in the range of 39 percent or higher in 2004. In 2000, Bush is thought to have received 35 percent of the Latino vote.

# McCain’s consistent history of advocating a legalization program for illegal immigrants made no impression on Latino voters.

# McCain lost the Latino vote by a wide margin even in his home state of Arizona, 56 to 41 percent. This was in spite of widespread news coverage of his immigration stance in that state.

# The drop in Republican support among Latinos between 2004 and 2008 was part of a broad-based electoral movement away from the GOP, and was hardly specific to that demographic group. McCain received only 57 percent of the white male vote, compared with 62 percent for Bush in 2004, and McCain’s 55 percent of regular church goers was significantly lower than Bush’s 61 percent.

# Credible surveys indicate that the major policy concerns of Latinos were no different than the concerns of non-Latinos: The economy and jobs topped the list.

# There is little evidence that immigration policy was an influential factor in Latinos’ choice between the two candidates once basic party predispositions are taken into account.

# In 2008, Latino voters supported the GOP ticket at levels above the usual 30 percent only when they resided in states that were already safely in GOP hands.

# The size of the Latino voting population should be kept in perspective alongside other subsets of the electorate. An estimated 11.8 million voters were of Latino ancestry, compared with 17 million African Americans, 19.7 million veterans, 23.6 million young people, 34 million born-again white Christians, and 45 million conservatives.

[Editor’s Note: “Latino Voting in the 2008 Election: Part of a Broader Electoral Movement,” by James G. Gimpel can be read in HTML or downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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