navigation bar U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany About the USA Sitemap Search
Election Focus 2004

U.S. Latino Vote Viewed as Crucial in 2004 Presidential Race

Latino voters in the United States will play a key role, and could be the decisive factor, in determining who wins the 2004 U.S. presidential race, say representatives from the two major American political parties and experts who chart the Latino vote. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the United States. The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures show 38.8 million Latinos in the country, and their influence is especially felt in states with large Latino populations, such as Florida, New York, Illinois, Texas, California and New Jersey, as they hold 181 of the 270 electoral votes needed to take the presidency. An estimated six million Latinos participated in the 2000 presidential election, and that number is expected to increase in 2004.

The Democratic and Republican political parties both are heavily engaged in outreach efforts to woo Latinos to their side. The Republicans, for instance, have posted on their Spanish-language website an initiative called “Abriendo Caminos” (Forging New Paths), which serves as that party’s gateway to extolling what it says are President Bush's efforts to aid Latinos.

As in 2000, the Republicans are also employing what they call the “Team Leader Project,” in which speakers from the Bush administration inform local communities about Republican legislative proposals to assist Latinos. Nicole Guillemard, director of outreach at the Republican National Committee in Washington, said Bush won about 35 percent of the Latino vote in the 2000 presidential election and her party hopes to significantly improve on that mark this year. That turnout for Bush was a decided improvement over the 21 percent won by the 1996 Republican candidate, former Senator Bob Dole. The Republicans also take heart in the fact that some polls show that Latinos, traditionally a Democratic constituency, are now less likely to automatically identify themselves as Democrats.

The Republicans view the Latino vote as “very crucial” in the presidential election, emphasized Guillemard. Meanwhile, Nelson Reyneri, director of Hispanic Outreach for the Democratic National Committee, said his party has a five-part outreach strategy for capturing Latinos, built around
the theme of “Juntos Podemos” (Together We Can).

Under that strategy, the Democrats hope to expand their traditional support from Latinos, recognizing that the party cannot “rest on its laurels” to appeal to that large voting bloc, said Reyneri. The strategy includes holding Hispanic Leadership Summits to reach out to Latino leaders. The party plans such a summit May 14-16 in Orlando, Florida, attended by some 200 Democratic Hispanic elected and appointed officials, party activists and the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.

The Democrats seek to expand on the 62 percent of the Latino vote won by former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 match-up against Bush. The Latino vote will be a “critical factor” on who wins the White House, said Reyneri.

A leading pollster of Latino voting trends, Sergio Bendixen, found that as of early February, Bush would receive 34 percent Latino support against an unnamed Democratic opponent — about the same percentage as in 2000. However, that does not necessarily rebound in the Democrats’ favor,

Bendixen said. His polling showed an unnamed Democratic opponent receiving 48 percent of the vote — far below the mid-60s level Democrats believe they need among Latinos to win the White House.

Bendixen said the biggest issues for U.S. Latinos are education, jobs, health care, the war in Iraq and immigration. On that latter issue, Bendixen said Latinos are split about 42 percent in favor, 20 percent against regarding Bush's new proposal to issue temporary work permits to temporary workers in the United States, the large majority of them from Mexico. However, opposition to the plan more than doubled when respondents were told most temporary workers would have to return to their home countries at the end of three or six years.

A poll released January 8 by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center
found that Latinos were less supportive of the war in Iraq and of Bush as a reelection candidate than the U.S. general population as a whole. The poll found that about 36 percent of Latinos support Bush's re-election.