Article originally published at The Nation
In his 1996 re-election President Bill Clinton attained 72 percent of the Latino vote, the highest level of Latino support of any presidential candidate—before this year. In 2012, President Obama set a new record, winning his second term in office with the support of 75 percent the Latino electorate. Obama won by deploying three key Latino “firewalls”—that is, a Democratic vote advantage in areas that without the Latino vote could see Republican come out on top—in the West, in new Latino destinations in the South and Midwest, and in Florida—and effectively preventing the GOP from attracting Latinos in critical numbers.
The electoral support that the president received, according to the impreMedia/Latino Decisions election eve poll, surpassed what polls even just days before the election indicated. The last weekly tracking poll by impreMedia/Latino Decisions had shown Latino support for the president tying Clinton’s 72 percent.
Latino support for President Obama had grown by a full ten percentage points in the last two months of the general campaign. The first impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking poll showed Latinos supporting the president at levels similar to those of 2008, in the mid to high sixty percent range. But, in the home stretch, the momentum among Latinos culminated in three-quarters of the electorate opting for another four years.
What is more striking than the overall level of support is the sky-high levels of support the president received in the Western swing states. In Nevada close to eight out of every ten Latinos voted for the president. In Colorado 87 percent of Latinos did the same. Toward the end of the campaign New Mexico was not considered a swing state, but it is indeed a part of the Western Latino firewall, with 77 percent of the Latino vote going to Obama. And while Arizona was solidly in the Romney column, the rapidly growing Latino electorate overwhelmingly voted for the president, with 79 of the vote.
Latinos also played a key role in the swing states of Virginia and Ohio, with 66 percent and 82 percent respectively of the Latino electorate voting for the president. While the Latino electorate in both of these states is still in the single digits, 5 percent in Virginia and 3 percent in Ohio Latinos helped tilt these über-tight races for the president. Moreover, the Latino electorate in what we think of as nontraditional destinations—such as the South and the Midwest—are actually the fastest growing in the country. A decade ago the Latino population in these areas was non-existent. Today it is growing at a rapid clip and will see the expansion of the Latino electorate into the double digits within ten to fifteen years.
The president did not need Florida to round into his 270 electoral votes. But just in case, his campaign secured a solid firewall in the central part of the state with the Puerto Rican electorate. Until recently, Cuban-Americans in the Miami-Dade area that overwhelmingly identify as Republicans have dominated the Latino electorate in Florida. Not coincidentally, close to two-thirds of Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for Mitt Romney.
But the last several years have seen a steady growth of Puerto Ricans in the I-4 corridor, stretching from Tampa to Orlando. Unlike their Cuban counterparts, Puerto Ricans tend to identify as Democrats. And in this week’s election the Obama campaign’s expectations were met with 72 percent of the Puerto Rican electorate voting for the president.
In the last two decades the Latino population has doubled. And more significantly, it has become more geographically diverse. Long gone are the days of equating the Latino electorate with only Los Angeles, Miami or Houston. To talk about Latinos today, we need to talk about Macon, Georgia, and Boise, Idaho. The political implication of this growth and geographic reach is the establishment of electoral firewalls. In this past election we saw the development and deployment of three such firewalls—the first in the Western states of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico; the second in the new Latino destinations of Ohio and Virginia, and the third in Central Florida. But the durability of these firewalls will depend on whether the GOP continues to walk away from the Latino electorate of whether they will change their tune and start building their own Latino lines of defense.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is the Communications Director for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin. Connect with her at:firstname.lastname@example.org