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Election Focus 2004

Minorities and the 2004 Election

Minorities will play a big part in the 2004 elections, especially in key states such as California, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona. In a recent interview, Washington File staff writer Darlisa Crawford spoke with Phil Tajitsu Nash, who is a frequent political commentator, author of Winning Campaigns Online and CEO of

Q: Are minority groups having an important impact on the Democratic primary and caucus races?

Until now, many of the states that have had primaries and caucuses have not been those with large urban populations and percentages of minorities. Hampshire and Iowa, for example, have some of the smallest percentages of minorities of any states in the country. This is why a lot of people think that the right to be the first states to cast votes in the presidential election cycle should be rotated every four years. The District of Columbia, which has a very large percentage of minorities, tried to become the first balloting place this year, but was rebuffed by most of the candidates and by the Democratic National Committee. It nevertheless held a non-binding primary in January before the Iowa caucuses.

Since then, other states with more minorities have held primaries and caucuses, including, South Carolina, which has about 50 percent African American voters. Missouri has about 15 percent African American voters, and Delaware also has about 15 percent African American voters.

Then, as the primaries in California and other large states approach in early March, we should see more and more minority participation. February 3rd was called “Hispanic Tuesday” by some Democratic activists to highlight the importance of Hispanic voters in Arizona (25 percent Hispanic) and New Mexico (42 percent Hispanic, with a governor, Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic).

President Bush also has traveled to these states recently to tout his job creation and immigration policies, so you know that the Hispanic community is making its voice heard.

A coalition of Asian Pacific Americans recently released a detailed political agenda to remind Republican and Democratic politicians that Asian Pacific Americans are an important source of votes in 15 of the 50 states. Nine and one-half percent of the eligible voting population in California is
Asian Pacific American, for example, and California has the most electoral votes of any state in the United States.

Q: Does geography sway the party affiliation of minority voting blocs?

It’s more than simple geography. You really have to know the history of the specific communities. For example, the Miami area has a lot of Hispanics but they tend to be from Cuba, and they came when they left the island when Fidel Castro took over back in 1959. They tend to be
more middle and upper class, and they tend to gravitate more toward the Republican Party. Now, they have become a very significant Republican voting bloc, sending people to Congress and electing local officials.

In the geographical areas near Mexico, there are more Mexican Americans, who tend to gravitate toward the Democratic Party. So within a single minority there can bedifferences in terms of which national group they came from and the time period they came to the U.S..

Q: How important will the “swing voters” be in this election? And are there many swing voters among minorities?

I would say the Asian Pacific American community is a wild card in this election. There are quite a number of Asian Pacific Americans who are still trying to develop more political clout within both major parties. They are already a force in California, where we see a large number of Asian Pacific American state representatives, and in Hawaii, where Asian Pacific Americans are the majority in both houses of the state legislature.

African Americans have been a very strong Democratic constituency and have successfully elected officials in places such as Atlanta and in other cities in the South, and in the Midwest. There are a number of African American mayors and members of Congress and statewide leaders in quite a few states.

However, I don’t see anything changing this year with the African American community. I think, if anything, they’re probably going to get more Democratic than they were in the past, because a lot of African Americans are not very happy at the economic situation they’ve seen in the last three years.

Q: Is the Democratic Party or the Republican Party benefiting from the nation’s growing racial diversity?

Both major parties, as well as the Green Party and Libertarian Party, and other parties, are trying to reach out to members of these minority communities, and in fact you are seeing more and more minority candidates. Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans are rising up in the ranks in their respective party organizations all around the country.

Q: According to a recent poll, 54 percent of Hispanic voters, a traditionally Democratic constituency, believe that President Bush is doing a good job. Are there more Hispanic Republicans voting in this

Election polls in 10 states with high concentrations of Hispanics in 2002 found that only one-third of Hispanics voted Republican in most races, but up to one-half did in certain gubernatorial races. Pollsters also found, however, that those Hispanics who voted had higher levels of education and income than the community as a whole. Lower income Hispanics and those who identify themselves as “independents” (which usually means “Democrat” for Hispanics) tended to stay home for various reasons, including dislike of dirty campaigns. President Bush is trying to attract Hispanics this election cycle with a plan to allow some previously undocumented Hispanics to work here legally for three years.

Q: Will the women’s vote be a deciding factor in this election?

The women’s vote is important in every election. It's hard to say whether it will be more decisive than it’s been in the past, but there are at this time, a number of women governors, lieutenant governors and attorneys general. We’re starting to see more and more female statewide officers who rise to national office. We’re eeing women in the highest ranks in the parties, for example, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. We’re seeing a lot of strength among women candidates and also women campaign officials. I think that’s going to translate into more women voters and more women candidates in this election in November.

Q: More young voters are expected to participate in the 2004 election. For example, voters under age 25 will make up seven or eight percent of the voting population. What are some of the issues that will appeal to younger voters and how are the Democratic candidates campaigning for this generation?

Over the past few elections there has been a lot more focus on senior citizens, on health care issues and other things that impact an older population. But key issues in 2004, such as jobs, education and the war in Iraq will have some resonance for younger voters. I think that these younger voters are being energized by political campaigning on the Internet, and I expect more of them will get involved with one party or the other as a result.


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