Dems’ future lies in Latinos

In 2008, Barack ObamaBarack ObamaMoney can’t buy VA reform Healthcare saga shaping GOP approach to tax bill Is a wave election forming for Democrats? MORE won the national Latino vote 67-31. Given the rapid growth of this key demographic, those results augured well not just for Obama’s reelection chances, but for the Democratic Party’s future. 

It was easy to see why Latinos were excited about Obama. After becoming the latest boogeyman for conservatives eager to divide and demonize entire segments of America, it was refreshing to hear rhetoric like this:

“For eight long years, we have had a president who has made all kinds of promises to Latinos on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House,” Obama said on the campaign trail. “We need a president who isn’t going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive [immigration] reform when it becomes politically unpopular. That’s the commitment I’m making to you ... and I will make it a top priority in my first year as president.”

Of course, it turned out immigration reform didn’t end up a top priority in the first year of Obama’s presidency. Nor in the second. Latinos apparently had yet another president who made all kinds of promises to them on the campaign trail, but failed to live up to them in the White House — despite polls showing dominant majorities in favor of comprehensive immigration reform not just among Democrats, but independents and Republicans as well.

But an issue’s nationwide popularity means little to our dysfunctional government in D.C. The subsequent inaction isn’t just bad policy, but terrible politics for Democrats.

According to Pew polling, 71 percent of Latinos approved of Obama’s job performance in January 2010 — above his support in 2008. Yet by June of this year, that number had fallen to 58 percent. Disapproval had risen from 18 percent to 33. 

Gallup polling has shown a similarly precipitous drop in Latino support for congressional Democrats. According to their numbers, Democrats had a significant +32 net favorability among Latinos in the summer of 2010 (or a 2-1 advantage); by September, it was just +13 — or 51 approve, 38 disapprove. 

Given the tough political climate, Democrats can ill afford to lose critical support from their key demographics. A Pew Study released Tuesday found that “Hispanic registered voters appear to be less motivated than other voters to go to the polls. Just one-third (32 percent) of all Latino registered voters say they have given this year’s election ‘quite a lot’ of thought. In contrast, half (50 percent) of all registered voters say the same. And when it comes to their intent to vote, half (51 percent) of Latino registered voters say they are absolutely certain they will vote in this year’s midterm election, while seven in 10 (70 percent) of all registered voters say the same.”

It’s clear: The Democratic Party’s inaction on immigration reform has real-world electoral repercussions.

Of course, congressional Democrats will merely shrug and blame Republican obstructionism, citing the elusive 60-vote threshold. But Democrats promised to fight for reform, and that means more than making excuses. It means actually fighting, holding votes and forcing Republicans to openly obstruct progress on the issue. Instead, Democrats surrendered before firing a single (metaphorical) shot. 

Spanish-language media has turned on Obama and the Democrats. Univision’s Jorge Ramos, a Walter Cronkite-style media giant among Latinos, said back in August that Obama “has a credibility problem right now with Latinos.” It’s true. And given Latinos’ social conservatism, this is a swing demographic if Republicans can convince them that Democrats can’t — or won’t even try — to deliver on economic and immigration issues.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.