Center for American Progress Action

The African-American and Latino Vote in the 2008 Election
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The African-American and Latino Vote in the 2008 Election

African-American and Latino voting blocs have clout this primary season, and the campaigns are increasing outreach accordingly.

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“When you think of the fact that every other presidential election has been a choice between white males, this election is a whole new situation,” University of Southern California Professor Roberto Suro declared at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event today. The historic nature of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson’s candidacies cannot be underestimated, particularly as states with significant African-American and Latino voting blocks come into play in the primary battle for delegates.

The first issue to recognize when discussing minority voting patterns in this election is that racial and ethnic groups are diverse communities whose actions cannot be presumed solely on the basis of race. Princeton University Professor Eddie Glaude warned event attendees to “avoid the generalized titles of the African American vote and the Latino vote” since these blocs mask the differences in these communities. African-American voters tend to split along lines of class and education, whereas Latino voters split on issues of language and geography. Looking at voters in a racial aggregate inevitably obscures the debate.

Still, racial politics and identities play a significant role in an individual’s decisions in the voting booth. Gebe Martinez, Political Columnist and Contributor to The Politico, argued that “when there was only one seat open to a minority, the African American tended to get it, and so the Hispanics learned to rely on Anglos,” a trend which has been reflected by Hispanic support of Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Martinez did note that Clinton’s support among Latinos is grounded on the familiarity they have with the Clintons, but that if Senator Obama ends up being the nominee, Latino voters would support him.

Dr. Glaude also spoke to historical trends that affect current voting, citing the “complex way in which a new generation of African-American political voices are emerging,” ones which are less influenced by the civil rights struggle. These voices are focusing not on “galvanizing the electorate,” as was seen with Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign, but rather with electing a mainstream candidate—a significant paradigm shift.

“Political solidarities are made, and they can come quickly into and out of existence,” Glaude argued, citing a rapidly changing political climate for African-American and Latino voters. While there are “very real tensions between members of these different communities,” the focus needs to be on the democratic process.

As the political calendar moves to include more African-American and Latino voters in the primary elections, and well into the general election, an increased focus on democratic participation and awareness will continue to bring power to previously disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities.

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