Latinos, Linked Fate, and the DREAM Act

At Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende doesn’t think that President Obama will benefit politically from his decision to unilaterally implement a lite version of the DREAM Act. In addition to the potential for backlash, there’s the fact that Latinos aren’t a major demographic in most swing states:

While the Latino vote is frequently portrayed as a critical voting bloc, in truth it is concentrated in only a few swing states with just a handful of electoral votes. The only states where Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the electorate are: Arizona (16 percent of the electorate in 2008), California (18 percent), Colorado (13 percent), Florida (14 percent), Nevada (15 percent), New Mexico (41 percent), and Texas (20 percent).

Of these, only Colorado, Florida, and Nevada are swing states; New Mexico and Arizona are at best borderline swing states. In Florida, the Latino vote largely (though decreasingly) comprises voters of Cuban descent and is therefore atypical of other Latino electorates.

So in the end, we’re talking about Colorado and Nevada as the states where this is likely to produce dividends of any size, for a total of 15 electoral votes.

Trende is absolutely right if Latinos understand themselves in isolation from each other—where Puerto Ricans in Florida don’t see their interests as intertwined with Mexicans in Nevada. But if that isn’t the case—if there is a sense of shared fate among different Latino ethnic groups—then Trende is on shakier ground.

While it’s true that Latinos are more likely to identify themselves by nationally than as “Latino,” that doesn’t rule out the existence of a secondary political identity that is based around the idea of a pan-ethnic identity. At the Latino Decisions blog, political scientist Gabriel Sanchez finds strong evidence of exactly that. He notes that 53 percent of respondents in a 2010 poll indicated that anti-immigrant sentiment plays a part in their voting preferences, and argues that this become more true, given that “a robust 76% of respondents to the June, 2011 ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions Tracking Poll believed “that an anti-immigrant or anti-Hispanic environment exists today.” In addition, 72 percent of Latinos say “their ‘success depends on the success of other Latinos/Hispanics’.”

Yes, immigration is less salient for Puerto Rican voters in Florida, and other similar Latino groups. But if they view themselves as politically connected to other Latinos, then Obama’s DREAM Act announcement might make them more enthusiastic for the president, even if it doesn’t affect their interests. In which case, Obama has recaptured important political ground at minimal cost to the rest of his coalition.