Race Clouds Democratic Voting Habits

This story was written by Steven Martinez, Daily Titan
The race for the Democratic Party nomination is coming down to the wire and racial voting habits could be the topic that puts either candidate in the top spot for good.

Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by a significant margin in the Latino community, according to a poll cited in "The Emerging Minority" in the New York Times Magazine Web site.

These polls are designed to indicate how specific groups tend to vote, but the numbers do not always tell the whole story.

Recently, a boiling pot of controversy was stirred when a senior member of Senator Clinton's staff made a general statement about the voting habits of Latino Americans based on their polling numbers.

"The Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates," Sergio Bendixen, a pollster for the Clinton campaign said in an interview for the "Minority Reports" in The New Yorker magazine's Web site.

While it may be an innocent statement on the surface, Bendixen is actually suggesting Latinos usually tend not to vote for black candidates or in the current election with Barack Obama.

"The evidence does not really support it, it doesn't mean there isn't conflict between blacks and Latinos, but there is no real evidence that it has been guiding voting behavior over the years," said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton.

However, the media spun Bendixen's statement, and in the weeks after the New Yorker article came out, political analysts began to focus their sights on the large problem Obama and many black candidates seemed to have with the Latino vote, Sonenshein said.

There is some evidence to suggest long-standing racial tension between the two communities, Castro said.

"These populations kind of embrace, internalize and popularize racial animosities even though those racial animosities might be the by-product of social fictions," said Robert Castro, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Instead of racism, their conflict could also be explained by economics.

"Hispanics and blacks are competing for the same jobs," said Jesse Smith, an emeritus professor of the Department of Afro-Ethnic Studies.

Latin Americans make up the largest minority group in the United States at around 44 million people, which constitutes about 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They are a significant demographic in the Democratic Party and like many minority groups, they tend to vote in a block, Smith said.

In recent contests, Hillary Clinton showed the ability to garner a majority of the Latino vote, which helped her win in California and New York, according to a recent National Public Radio article by Nancy Cook.

It is not that Latino voters do not want to vote for a black candidate, however. They want to vote for a name that they trust, Sonenshein said.

"There is not a lot of evidence that suggests either group [Latinos or blacks] would pick out the other to vote against," he said. "Hillary is very close to the Latino community [and] very well regarded in the Latino community."

The Clinton name resonates with Latinos because of her support of Latino issues.

"The Clintons have the reputation of pushing forward sympathetic policies and laws for Latino voters," Castro said.

Most of the animosities that do exist between the communities would tend to be in the older generations and Obama actually has a decent following with young Latino voters, Castro said.

Still, the Clinton campaign is resolute in its findings, saying that Bendixen was making "a historical statement."

Regardless of the reason for Bendixen's statement, the idea tat Latinos do not vote for black candidates has already made its way into the national consciousness.

In an article by Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez wrote that Bendixen's statement already changed the way the Nevada Caucus was analyzed when Hillary won the Latino vote by more than 2-1.

As proof of this, Rodriguez pointed to political news pundit Tucker Carlson and articles from as far away as the Agence France-Presse and the London Daily Telegraph which referred to Latinos as a "voting bloc traditionally reluctant to support black candidates."

Some see this as a political spin designed to weaken Obama's electability on the national level.

"It starts spreading the thought that Latinos just don't vote for black candidates and that [makes Latinos think] 'Well, maybe that's right, maybe we don't vote for black candidates," Sonenshein said.

"It could make black voters more hostile to Latinos. And Latinos who hear it might think that they somehow ought to be at odds with blacks. These kinds of statements generate interracial tensions," author Richard Thompson Ford wrote in his published work "The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse."

This new way of thinking is boosting the Clinton campaign by suggesting Hillary is the more electable candidate because the Hispanic vote will defect to McCain or Nader should a black candidate like Obama win the nomination, Sonenshein said.

"They [the Clinton campaign] want to be able to skew them [voters] to say 'Obama will never win Latino votes, therefore I better vote for Clinton in the primary because she is the only one who can beat McCain,'" Sonenshein said.

Sonenshein said the converse is also not true.

Latinos will not vote for a black candidate just because they can relate to them on a level as minorities. Latinos, like all Americans, vote in a way that best benefits themselves.

Right now, Latinos are merely unfamiliar with Obama and comfortable with Clinton, Castro said.

"I think the mistake people make is they generalize from people being annoyed with each other to thinking that's how people vote. It really doesn't always go that way," Sonenshein said.
© 2008 Daily Titan via U-WIRE