The 2012 primary, political ads, and the political psychology behind it all.
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.
The Latino electorate was not one to want for a date this election; both presidential candidates laid it on pretty thick. President Obama was hoping to harness and build upon his 2008 support and Mitt Romney hoping to channel George W. Bush. Romney had a lot to make up for coming out of the primaries—like when he suggested undocumented immigrants should be made so “miserable” they would “self-deport”—but could have found a potential opening in Latino frustration at the President’s broken promise of immigration reform.
George W. Bush set the gold standard when it comes to GOP Latino outreach. In 2000 he received 35 percent of the Latino vote and four years later increased that share by close to five percentage points. Kicking off the general campaign season the Romney camp stated that its goal would be to net 38 percent of the Latino vote, a figure higher than Bush’s first term and way beyond McCain’s 2008 share of 31 percent.
Coming into the summer Mitt Romney had a steep climb with Latinos. His support was in the low 20s—but he figured that time was his friend and he would eventually win them over. In theory it wasn’t an impossible task.
Romney targeted Latinos who had become disillusioned with President Obama. His critical pitch was an economic one, highlighting that under the President Latinos fared worst during the recession. Romney also made sure to remind Latinos of President Obama’s broken immigration promise and the record number of deportations carried out by his administration. Meanwhile, the term self-deportation disappeared from Romney’s general campaign vernacular.
On the eve of the conventions, it looked like Romney had gained some traction. In the first of what would be eleven weekly tracking polls, impreMedia and Latino Decisions found that 26 percent of registered Latinos supported Mitt Romney. Following the Republican National Convention support for Romney jumped up to 30 percent among registered Latino voters. If the next nine weeks had followed the same trend, Romney would indeed meet his 38 percent mark.
But by mid-September Romney’s post-convention bump had started to recede. In the third weekly tracking poll his support came down to 29 percent. In the next three weeks he continued to lose support, until by week seven he had hit the low point, with only 20 percent of the Latino electorate’s support. Once his slide began, Romney was never able to regain his footing and has able to only make it back up to 23 percent on the eve of the election.
President Obama’s story is the inverse of Romney’s. The President started out with the support of 65 percent of registered Latino voters in the first weekly tracking poll. However, with the exception of one small dip following the first presidential debate, his support continued to climb reaching the current figure of 73 percent. Over the course of close to two months Mitt Romney saw a decline of seven percentage points among Latinos while the President saw an eight percentage point increase.
Latinos overwhelmingly prefer President Obama and as the tracking polls have shown that preference has only grown in the last several weeks. But more importantly, Latinos have indicated a growing sense of enthusiasm in turning out to vote. At the beginning of the tracking poll more Latinos indicated that they had been more enthusiastic about the 2008 election. However, by the last tracking poll over half of Latinos indicated that they were more excited about the 2012 election than the 2008 election.
The increase in enthusiasm did not come in one burst and did not result from one single factor. To begin, the Obama campaign had a strong Latino-targeted infrastructure on the ground. They were able to capitalize on their highly effective ground game from 2008. Enthusiasm also grew as the policy differences between both candidates became starker. The debates, together with the home stretch campaigning highlighted the policy prospects for Latinos under each candidate. And finally, the location of Latinos in key swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada gave this electorate a shot of energy as the election drew near.
In the end Latinos doubled down on their support for President Obama. There is no question that Latinos are sore at the President for his lack of immigration overhaul, but at the same time they realize that Mitt Romney’s stance on immigration is one that is restrictive and not in accord with the preferences of the majority of Latinos. On the economic front, Latinos were undeniably the hardest hit, but in terms of getting back on their feet they subscribe to the President’s vision of a progressive government rather than the erasure of government. With close to three-quarters of the Latino electorate indicating that they trust President Obama and the Democrats to make the right decisions to improve our economic conditions the message is clear--Latinos have said adiós to Romney.
Read Bryce Covert on the gender gap among female voters on the eve of the election.
So I start off by defining my “true colors” on a questionnaire that is made up of nine dimensions. Then I’m asked a series of in-depth, “core” questions, and upon completion I’m informed that I can now match with people who share my views. Each of my matches has a score that I can compare to mine and has answered a series of core questions that I can also evaluate to assess compatibility. And no, I didn’t just sign up for an online dating site for political junkies. I took part in the online grassroots movement to elect our next president through a national online primary that will place a bipartisan ticket on the 2012 ballot in all fifty states.
Americans Elect is a nonpartisan organization whose motto is “Pick a president, not a party.” This president can be anyone that fulfills the constitutional requirements. One can self-declare or draft a candidate. All of the candidates have their profiles posted with an accompanying compatibility score. For example, my match on the nine true-color dimensions with declared candidate Buddy Roemer, the former governor of Louisiana, is 47.8 percent. But if I don’t want to let science alone dictate my match I can also choose potential candidates based on their biographical essays and responses to more in-depth, ideological questions. From there I can choose to track and/or add my support to different candidates.
In late spring of this year, Americans Elect will hold a primary consisting of three rounds of online balloting where the six candidates with the most votes will emerge. Anyone can vote as long as they are a registered voter. With the exception of Texas, any person can vote, even if they have voted in a partisan primary. The primary finalists will then choose a running mate, but the hitch is that the VP pick has to be from an opposite party.
The next stage is an online convention where the ticket that achieves a majority is chosen. This ticket then receives the Americans Elect nomination that translates into placement on the 2012 ballot in all fifty states, not an easy task. The bulk of the donations Americans Elect receives goes to the effort of collecting the required signatures to secure a slot on the ballot in each state. Americans Elect does not endorse candidates or provide financial support to individuals. Instead, Americans Elect finance the process of finding and electing an alternative choice.
The general motivation for Americans Elect is to give Americans a voice beyond partisan confines, and the vehicle to do this is technology. Americans Elect is nonpartisan, though the candidates it puts forward can be partisans, of any stripe. The movement seeks to get beyond hyper-partisanship and expand the number of people who participate in politics, both as voters and as candidates. According to Kahlil Byrd, Americans Elect CEO, “Partisan stalemate has choked off the ability to put big political issues on the table.” His organization seeks to give these issues room to breathe.
Americans Elect is especially critical of the current primary process that disproportionately biases early states, not leaving much of a choice to later voters in the majority of the nation. Americans Elect also seeks to broaden participation by making voting easy. As they rightly point out, our electoral system, developed in agrarian times, is arcane and biased toward decreasing rather than increasing participation. If we can pay our taxes online, why not vote online? The technology is there, and they should know, given that their chief technology officer is Josh Levine, former CTO of E-Trade.
I could not agree more with Americans Elect’s goal to broaden political participation through technology. However, I am weary of their intention to get beyond partisanship. Let’s just imagine that the Americans Elect ticket wins the presidency. The executive would still have to contend with a partisan Congress. Institutionally, Congress is locked into a two-party system as a result of how members are elected through winner-take-all single member districts. Our electoral system incentivizes the pooling of resources into only two parties. We may not like how Congress works (or doesn’t), but unless we completely overhaul our electoral design, the idea of a nonpartisan president is hard to conceive.
Americans Elect is focused on the election of the president. Going forward, the organization will expand to the state and local level. While I applaud their ambitious thinking, I question why they didn’t reverse the model and gain momentum from the ground up. Moving from the local and state level up through the national level would better allow for the gargantuan task of changing our electoral system, which would in turn facilitate a president’s truly being nonpartisan.
Latinos have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. In 2010, Republican state legislatures began an aggressive anti-immigrant campaign. At the same time, Latinos witnessed the administration fail to follow through on its promise for comprehensive immigration reform. Considering how both parties did or didn’t deal with the issue of immigration, it would not be surprising to see Latinos turn away from both parties. However, the issue of immigration alone does not define Latino interests—and moving beyond this single-issue focus will position the Democratic Party as the choice, not just the default option, for Latinos.
The concerns of Latinos are the same concerns of any other folks in the United States. In fact, issues related to the economy, education or healthcare are of even greater concern to Latinos than to non-Latinos. Latinos suffered the greatest decline in wealth during the recession, have the highest high school dropout rates and have the fastest growing rate of childhood obesity. There is no single box in which to fit Latino issues. But the temptation to do so has not prevented Latinos and non-Latinos alike from using the immigration box.
The administration has recognized that it in the past it was guilty of reaching out to the community through a disproportionate emphasis on immigration. In the second half of his administration the president has sought to broaden his engagement with Latinos. This effort began with the White House Hispanic Policy Conference last July that brought Latino leaders to Washington to strategize how to meet the diverse needs of the Latino community.
The Hispanic Policy Conference was a good first step. But ultimately this was a Beltway function that brought together the usual suspects of Latino leaders. What has been truly unique about this effort is the development of two dozen community action summits across the country. White House officials have packed up and taken the conversation on the road to explain how the president’s agenda has affected the Latino community and to learn and listen from these different communities.
The White House Hispanic Community Action Summits connect the dots about how policies otherwise thought of as non-Latino are tangibly affecting Latino communities. For example, through the Small Business Jobs act, over $800,000 in loans were made to Latino small businesses. And through the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, 150,000 additional Pell Grant awards will be made to Latino students. Environmental actions such as regulating emissions have also had a large effect on the Latino community, given that over 70 percent of Latinos live in places that do not meet US air pollution standards.
It is one thing to look at the economic development data for Cleveland, Ohio, and another to sit in a room with Latino Clevelanders as the administration did earlier this year. Just as important as disseminating information are seeing and hearing firsthand how policies translate onto the local level and can be improved. Summits have been held across the country including in Orlando, Milwaukee and, most recently, San Antonio. In conjunction with today’s San Antonio summit, the White House has released a report on the Hispanic Community Agenda that discusses how the administration’s policies, from the Wall Street Reform Bill to the regulation of coal-fired plants, have affected Latinos.
In establishing the community summits, the president has gone back to his roots of connecting with people on a local level. The administration has successfully broadened its frame of interaction with Latinos and will have to continue to do so. In 2012 and beyond, the Democratic Party has to give Latinos a reason to support them, and opposing Republicans isn’t enough.
Primary elections are about running to the extremes; general elections are about running to the middle. In the case of the Republicans, that journey back to the middle requires balancing their need to keep their fragile base of evangelicals, Tea Partiers and free-marketers content with the urgency of reaching the growing percentage of voters that no longer identify with one party. General elections in modern times are increasingly about wooing independent voters, and as we move toward November the focus will be on them. Romney, the likely nominee, will have to balance his ticket with someone that will satisfy his base and yet be able to reach independent voters in the swing states. There are a number of possible picks, but the happy middle for Romney seems to have Gingrich’s name on it.
The recent political chatter has centered on Rand Paul. On the surface it seems plausible. First, it would at least explain why Ron Paul has been so uncharacteristically tame toward Romney. Second, Rand Paul is a conservative Southerner, an identity that Romney does not connect well with. However, Rand Paul’s brand of conservatism is far too extreme for the general voter. In Paul’s Senate campaign he argued that private businesses should still have the right to discriminate. It’s one thing to advocate for states’ rights in general terms, and another to try to argue against the long-settled constitutional and societal norm that discrimination is unacceptable. While this position did not harm his election, it may not play as well outside of his home state of Kentucky and the Deep South.
The vice-presidential speculation has also gotten hot about Marco Rubio. The presumption is that Rubio has got it all. He is Latino, young, articulate and a Tea Party darling from a swing state. But this option is a non-starter. Cubans in Florida are largely Republican, making up 5 percent of the Latino electorate, and are densely concentrated in Florida. The reality is that the vast majority of Latinos outside of Florida are Democrats and of Mexican descent, for whom Rubio would have little appeal. This is especially the case given the hard line he has taken on immigration. Romney could not count on Rubio to connect with Latinos in the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and bring them over to the GOP ticket.
Another possibility would seem to be the primaries’ number two, Santorum. After Super Tuesday he has shown that he can deliver in the South and in the Midwest. And the fact that Romney and Santorum don’t care much for each other doesn’t matter—neither did Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush nor John Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The issue with Santorum is that he’s got a lady problem. His views alienate independent and moderate Republican women. Women vote at consistently higher rates than men. This is not a group you want to alienate in the general election.
This brings us to Newt Gingrich. Yes, he has a number of flaws. He has a history of marital infidelity, murky financial dealings and charisma that borders on arrogance. But it just so happens that these flaws are counterbalanced by Romney’s rock-solid personal and professional narrative and his social awkwardness. During Gingrich’s brief tenure as front-runner he also demonstrated an eagerness to be confrontational and combative, qualities that Romney seems to abhor. Gingrich also demonstrates a Palinesque quality in his ability to work a crowd and charm voters, two characteristics that would make up for Romney’s country-club persona. And as far as the marital infidelities go, who doesn’t like a story of redemption, especially evangelicals, who embrace forgiveness as a reminder of human frailty?
Gingrich is in that sweet spot to the right of Romney and to the left of Santorum. It is in this spot that Romney needs to concern himself. Sure, he will help turn out the South, but then again, there is about a zero likelihood that the South would vote for President Obama regardless of the vice presidential pick. Gingrich is the Ying to Romney’s Yang. And finally, it would be kind of fun to see a Gingrich-Biden debate.
Last night Romney won an outright majority of the delegates, but Santorum decisively emerged as the moral and ideological leader of Republican primary voters. Super Tuesday’s outcome demonstrates that there is an internal tug of war between what Republicans know they should do—vote for Romney—and what they want to do—vote for Santorum.
While we may like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, we are not—Republicans and Democrats alike. Our hearts weigh heavily into our decision-making tasks, especially politics. This is what is occurring among GOP primary voters. Rationally and strategically, Republicans know that Romney is the better candidate to challenge President Obama. More specifically, Republican primary voters indicate that they think the economy is the most important issue and that the best preparation for being president is a background in business. And when it comes to social issues, Romney and Santorum are indistinguishable in their opposition to gay marriage, abortion and contraception provision through insurance packages. Putting all of this into the equation, it would seem Romney is the hands-down choice.
However, Romney’s stand on these issues and his professional experience are being eclipsed by more emotionally laden social and cultural rhetoric. Here is where Santorum has the advantage. Emotions are responses to things that we feel passionate about. More intense emotions such as fear and anger have a greater effect on us and in turn on our behavior. And Santorum has the edge when it comes to stirring up fear and anger, ranging from his “man-on-dog sex” comments to saying the separation of church and state “makes him want to vomit.”
Intense emotions can create a perceptual screen through which individuals will be less likely to deliberately weigh information. From a rational choice standpoint, Romney is likely better able to tackle pocketbook issues than Santorum. Romney is also a social conservative, but the emotional hype around Santorum overshadows Romney. This is not to say that voters’ heads do not have a role to play, but what happens is that intense emotions, when not consciously checked against cognition, will win out.
According to last night’s exit polls, Santorum is preferred among voters who state the two most important candidate traits are conservatism and moral character. There are exceptions, such as the voters in Massachusetts and Georgia who indicate that their respective favorite sons are the conservative real deal. But beyond these exceptions, Santorum is viewed as both the truest conservative and as the candidate with the strongest moral character. Even in his wins last week in Arizona and Michigan, Romney lost out to Santorum in these two categories.
In Tennessee, where Santorum won by 9 percent, Romney is still considered the most likely to defeat President Obama. While voters see Romney as the better candidate for the general election, they don’t necessarily like him. The establishment recognizes this division. Just this week Congressional conservatives Representative Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn urged voters to go with a leader with business and governing experience, to support Romney. And even though eighty Congressional Republicans, along with dozens of other state and local level political leaders, have endorsed Romney, primary voters are still resisting what they’re being told is good for them.
Of the two front-runners in the GOP field, Santorum is the emotional favorite. His brand is based on the emotionally laden issues of abortion, gay marriage and family values, but more importantly, he hams it up with theatrics. Romney has similar socially conservative views, but he has framed his campaign to emphasize the economy and his business experience. In the end, Santorum emerges as the candidate that can hit the emotional hot buttons of Republican partisans. The question now becomes, will the GOP heart or mind win, come the end of the primaries?
A father recounts the story of how his fourteen year-old daughter disappeared in New York City for three days. He then describes how his business partner closed the company and brought almost all of the employees to New York to set up a command center and search through the night. The father chokes up when he remembers how his business partner said, “I don’t care how long it takes we’re going to find her.” The girl was found and the 30-second ad spot concludes with the father stating that the man who saved his daughter was Mitt Romney.
The missing girl ad is a remarkable ad, not because of the story but because of the shift in strategy by the Romney campaign. Stories that pull at the heartstrings are commonplace in political ad narratives. However, the positive and personal tone of the ad is exceptional in relation to the consistently negative and depersonalized tone Romney has struck thus far.
Through the end of February Restore our Future, a Pro-Romney PAC, spent over $16 million dollars on advertising, 100 percent of it negative. Even the majority of the campaign’s own ad spending has been negative first focusing on Gingrich and now on Santorum. Romney’s strategy has been to tear down those around him without giving people reasons to like him. He has failed to build an image of Mitt Romney the man. His campaign has a well-developed narrative of him as CEO and Governor, but stops short of humanizing him.
What has been so puzzling about Romney not incorporating his personal life into the campaign is that he has a picture perfect narrative. He has been married to the same woman for 40 years, has a close-knit family, tithes, and above that gives to other charitable organizations. Objectively he’s a Boy Scout and compared to Gingrich and Santorum he’s a saint. But as my Mexican grandmother would say, santo que no es visto no es querido (a saint that isn’t seen isn’t loved.)
Voters care about issues and experience but they also care about a leader’s personality. People want to vote for someone they like, for someone they could see themselves having a beer with. And the fact that Romney is a millionaire that doesn’t drink isn’t the issue. George W. Bush didn’t drink and was just as wealthy as Romney, but people still wanted to have a beer with him. What matters is the perception of approachability. Voters want to cast their ballot for someone who they actually like, for someone who would drop everything and help his friend find his daughter.
The missing girl ad was created for Romney’s 2008 presidential run. It was dusted off for Super Tuesday and marks a change in tone from the previous negative ads sponsored by Restore our Future. If just a portion of the Romney ad barrage and general messaging turned to the candidate’s softer side he could pull ahead decisively. However, disclosing more of Romney’s personal side also means further highlighting his Mormonism. This is a gamble his campaign will have to take if he is to cement the GOP voters that are not anti-Mormon but also not sold on a capable yet robotic Romney.
It’s going to be a long hard slog. Mitt Romney won the Arizona and Michigan battles but he is far from winning the nomination war. The primary obstacle course will wind deep into the South, halting any of Romney’s momentum from his weak wins this week, as Ben Adler notes. The elections then enter the home stretch, beginning with Texas’s late May primary with 155 delegates. Here is where Romney could make his last stand and go down fighting.
There are four more months of primary elections and there are still 2,002 delegates up for grabs. To begin, Super Tuesday is not that super, with only 437 delegates at play. Delegate distribution will be interspersed throughout the contests, with the last month of the primary election season seeing 494 delegates in play. Almost one-third of these delegates will be from Texas, and Texans are not that sweet on Romney. According to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Romney is the choice of only 16 percent likely Texan voters, coming in third after Gingrich, who is at 18 percent, and Santorum, at 48 percent. Because of the number of delegates, the late date and Santorum’s overwhelming lead, the Lone Star state could be a game-changer.
Romney is the weakest candidate among Southern evangelicals. The magnitude of his weakness will become painfully obvious with the series of Southern primaries that are held in May: North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky. According to a study conducted at the beginning of 2012 by political scientists John Geer and Brett Benson at Vanderbilt and Jennifer Merolla at Claremont Graduate, Romney’s faith continues to be his Achilles heel in the South. While there is still a generalized anti-Mormon sentiment, in the GOP—about 20 percent—that figure jumps up to 31 percent among Southern evangelicals.
Geographically, Texas is considered both a Southern and a Western state. Religiously, however, it is more similar to its neighboring Southern states. Evangelicals account for one-third of the population and close to half of the electorate. And 31 percent of Texan voters do not believe Mormons are Christians. Texas’s religious and social conservatism bodes well for Santorum. This same conservatism is what likely makes Gingrich’s peccadillos too much for Texans to handle from a non-native son.
If Santorum picks up momentum in Texas at the end of May, he positions himself well for the June 5 California primary with 172 delegates. The RealClearPolitics polling average for the California primary has Romney ahead at 32 percent, with Santorum at 28 percent. California could be especially good for Santorum, since it is unlikely that he would have to give up much of the conservative vote to Gingrich.
Texas will cap off the Southern primary elections, where Santorum’s brand of conservatism and Romney’s Mormon faith could prove a dangerous combination for Romney. Timing is everything, and for Santorum the timing of Texas’s primary is on his side. Redistricting litigation prevented the Texas primary from being held during its original Super Tuesday date. Had the Texas primary come on the heels of Romney’s wins and early delegate lead, then he likely would not find himself making his last stand in Texas.
Nothing. My home state does not suffer from a fundamental political or societal flaw. There are a number of things that I do not like about Arizona, namely S.B. 1070, tent city Joe Arpaio and finger-wagging Jan Brewer. But to understand Arizona and that nothing’s the matter with it, you have to understand its Western personality, one that is volatile and quirky. It is a personality that is forged by an inheritance of populist politics and idiosyncratic political leaders.
One hundred years ago this month, Arizona was the last state in the continental United States to gain statehood. While the political machines in New York, Baltimore and Chicago were grinding out back-room deals, Arizona was only beginning to think about statehood. As Tom Schaller points out in his book, Whistling Past Dixie, the later incorporation of the Mountain West states meant a later start to political development in this region. As a result, states west of the Mississippi do not have deep partisan roots that anchor their political systems.
Politics in the West has been and continues to be candidate-centered. The same state that elected Barry Goldwater to the Senate is the same state that in 1974 elected Raúl Castro, Arizona’s first Latino governor. Arizona is also a state where in 2002 and 2006 voters simultaneously elected Democrat Janet Napolitano as governor and Republican Jan Brewer as secretary of state.
A thin party structure is complemented by a strong tradition of direct democracy—referendums, initiatives and recalls. For example, in 1996 Arizona became the first state to pass a medical marijuana proposition and in 1988 became the second state to approve a recall of their governor, though Governor Mecham ended up being impeached before the election. The five states with the highest number of initiatives have all been in the West. Until Scott Walker’s recall effort, the previous three recalls were all in the West.
Recently Western states have engaged in what political scientist Caroline Tolbert refers to as new progressivism. In the 1990s Western states once again looked to progressivism to provide citizens further control of their government, such as with term limits, public financing of political campaigns or voter approval of tax limits. These measures have wrested greater control from partisan and governmental institutions. And to further curb partisan influence in politics, in 2000 Arizona voters approved Proposition 106 that established an independent redistricting commission.
Western states have their own personalities. Arizona’s brand of cowboy politics is largely unbridled by partisan institutions and a republican form of government. For better or for worse, it is a system that allows for greater political volatility. Arizona’s political system allows for S.B. 1070, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer. However, it also allows for a system where Russell Pearce, the architect of S.B. 1070, can be recalled and the 2010 redistricting map can be drawn more competitively—much to the public annoyance of the governor. And lastly, Arizona is a state that preferences the will of the electorate and with each electoral cycle that electorate becomes increasingly more Latino.
Protesters stand outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services building, Saturday, May 1, 2010 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Let’s call a spade a spade. Opposition to immigration is not a concern rooted in personal economic concerns. Neither is it a concern having to do with state’s rights. Anti-immigrant sentiment isn’t even about immigrants as a whole. As rigorous social scientific research shows, opposition to immigration is closely linked to the negative racial animus toward one very specific group, Latinos.
Over the course of the GOP primary season, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been a stump speech staple of the candidates. The focus of Republican candidates is to keep new immigrants out and get those here to leave. The Republican primary has become a quien es más macho contest of who has the biggest anti-immigrant badge. The top anti-immigrant badge of honor goes to Herman Cain and his advocacy for an electrified border fence, while Rick Perry lost out by having aided Texas college students who happened to be undocumented.
The question is whether the GOP contenders would feel the same if the undocumented students in question were Irish or if the folks trying to get past the electrified fence were Canadians. Would Romney feel as strongly about self-deportation if the immigrants were French?
Though I have a hunch, I can’t say with certainty what the candidates would say if the immigrants in question were not Latino. However, I can look to what the general American public thinks about immigration and how their opposition depends on what immigrant group is made salient.
Today, as in the past, opponents of immigration argue that newcomers displace native workers and create a fiscal drain by utilizing public services. The issue is not about the immigrants themselves, but about the material and economic threat they pose. Under this line of reasoning, Latinos shouldn’t take the immigration debate personally; it’s not about them, it’s about a larger policy concern.
The immigration debate got very personal for Latinos in California in 1994 when Proposition 187 passed, denying undocumented persons basic social services such as a public education. The justification for Prop 187 was to curb financial waste, not negative feelings toward Latinos. In the wake of Prop 187 UC Berkeley political scientist Jack Citrin and his colleagues (1997) put the political rhetoric of economic self-interest to the test. Using American National Election Study data they found that personal economic circumstances did little to influence one’s position on immigration. In contrast, they found that ideology and negative feelings toward Hispanics and Asians drove opposition to immigration.
This study, however, did not consider whether negative feelings toward white immigrants would also lead to a preference for less immigration. It could still be the fact that the American public dislikes immigration because they have a generalized animus toward all immigrants. To test this proposition, political scientists at the University of Michigan (Brader, Valentino, and Suhay 2008) conducted a study where survey respondents were asked about immigration in the context of a story that either featured José Sanchez or Nikolai Vandinsky. The researchers found that negative feelings about immigration grew when the immigrant group in question was Mexican rather than Russian.
The argument could still be made that opposition to immigration is related to a stigmatization of non-white immigrant groups in general and not Latinos in particular. To get at this question Nick Valentino and his colleagues at the University of Michigan looked at how evaluations of Asians, African-Americans and Latinos influenced opinion on immigration. Negative feelings toward Latinos had the largest effect on restrictive immigration preferences. In comparison, sentiments toward blacks and Asians did not have a significant role in whites’ immigration policy preferences.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is about Latinos. Negative feelings toward this group drive anti-immigration stances. The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that political leaders use only exacerbates negative feelings toward Latinos. It is a vicious cycle that in the short-term uses fear to round up votes but ultimately uses Latinos as a scapegoat and prevents a serious policy issue from being addressed.