According to many recent polls, by considerable margins, California Latinos prefer Hillary Clinton.
I have no poll data, but I have some experience turning out Latino voters and I've been asking questions of people who are working on doing just that. Some observations:
- Clinton is clearly targeting the Latino segment of the electorate. She's making the right visits, leaning on surrogates like Dolores Huerta, Antonio Villaraigosa, and the United Farm Workers Union. People like to have attention paid to them, particularly if they are used to being ignored. She should do well among Latinos.
- Meanwhile, Obama has his own emissaries to Latino voters, notably Maria Elena Durazo, the leader of the Los Angeles Labor Council which has outstandingly prioritized organizing low wage immigrant, largely Latino, workers. His Kennedy family endorsements are also likely to carry some weight. Many immigrant households still display portraits of JFK as the iconic good American president. (I know, not my understanding of the guy, but I am just reporting what I have seen.)
- Clinton may also be hitting some notes that don't quite address California reality. She's running a TV ad that features Cesar L. Chavez talking about his grandfather. I suspect such appeals to the farm worker leader's legacy may not resonate as much as her people think. When the labor leader died, the buzz around the San Francisco Mission was: “Cesar Chavez? Oh, yeah, wasn't he a great boxer?” [Yes. Julio Cesar Chavez was a great boxer, at the time of the other Chavez's death, a world lightweight champion.] I routinely ask young Latinos whether they have heard of the United Farm Workers founder. Only the ones who have been taught about him in school seem to have a notion of his work. Many older folks, voters, may have less attachment to Chavez.
- In the past, polls have not been particularly good at capturing the sentiments of Latino voters. The most accurate polls employ interviewers who share culture with the interviewees -- in particular people who can distinguish polite agreement from real agreement. Because good polling requires skilled interviewers, it is expensive to carry out among minority segments of the electorate and frequently has not been done well. As a result, Latino voters surprised pollsters with the strength of their vote on some occasions in the 1990s. That said, I think the polling organizations are far better at conducting this difficult kind of opinion research today than they were ten years ago.
- I have an impression that many in the Latino electorate are "late deciders." Like a lot of people, they have other things to do besides think about politicians. Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) thinks this hurts Obama.
- Obama has been solidly in favor of issuing drivers' licenses to the undocumented -- he has refused to be drawn into discussing this as anything more than a practical automotive safety measure. On this issue, Obama's stance is deeply in accord with California's Latino community where most every family has an uncle or niece who is out of status.
- Staff of some of the unions that actually organize low wage workers are busily working to raise turnout among their members, not for the presidential primary, but about several initiative measures. When I ask them who their members are leaning toward, they've confirmed the polling that Clinton is very strong. "The workers remember good times under Bill and they want that back," one told me.
- Columnist Ruben Navarette Jr, who is not someone I often find myself agreeing with, thinks a lot of the buzz about whether Latinos will vote for a Black man is actually white people playing out our racism. He points out that Latinos frequently have voted in great numbers for Black mayors of major cities -- how do we think David Dinkins or Harold Washington or Tom Bradley each won their city's top jobs? Voters who belong to any kind of minority are usually pretty pragmatic voters -- after all, being in a minority means discerning who that is not one of your own will be most likely to care for your interests. Navarette quips: