Ahead of caucus, Iowa Latino voters get little play from GOP field

The latest Census numbers show Iowa’s Latino population nearly doubling over the past 10 years, but Republican presidential candidates aren’t likely to make a push for their votes, according to local political experts.

With Iowa’s renowned Ames Straw Poll just days away, the U.S. Census Bureau released data for the Midwestern battleground state on Thursday showing an overall population growth of about 120,000 people, or 4 percent, since 2000.


One of the largest areas of growth was among the Latino population, which nearly doubled in size, from 82,473 people in 2000 to 151,544 people in 2010, growing from less than 3 percent of the state’s population to about 5 percent, according to the Census statistics. About half of those Latinos, 88,337, or about 3.8 percent of the total population, are eligible to vote.

But according to political experts in Iowa, the growth in the state’s Latino presence isn’t likely to make much of an impact on the campaigns that Republican presidential hopefuls wage as they vie for the party’s nomination.

“Republicans are going to make almost no attempt to go after the Latino vote in Iowa heading into the caucus,” said David Peterson, an associate professor of political science at Iowa State University.

“While the Latino population has doubled, it’s still a relatively small number and one where turnout is generally lower than Anglos in the state. And because they’re independent, they’re not necessarily reliable caucusgoers.”

Peterson said the topic of immigration, which is important to many Latino voters, is not likely to come up until the general election, when the GOP nominee can attack President Obama’s stance on the issue, as well as his record.

And even then, Republicans aren’t going to try and win over the independent Latino voters in the state, he said. Rather, the GOP candidates will likely focus on the more conservative voters who prefer stronger immigration laws.

“It’s an easy strategic choice,” said Peterson. “If you’re trying to maximize your votes, you’re best off trying to appeal to the anti-immigrant Anglo Republican.”

Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said Republicans might try to appeal to the increased number of Latino voters in the state, but it will be on other social issues and not immigration.

“The Republican Party probably wants to reach out to Hispanics but can do so on some of the social issues — and this is true with black voters too — they tend to be more conservative on some of the social issues and maybe a bit less so on some of the fiscal issues, and so the Republican Party has to find a way to reach out to these groups that appeals to them and not alienate them on another issue like immigration,” said Hagle.

Obama has made a strong push this year to appeal to Latino voters throughout the country, holding a series of high-profile meetings with Latino community and business leaders, politicians and celebrities.

Obama has emphasized his efforts to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would provide residential status to certain students who came to the U.S. illegally. The measure failed to make it through the last Congress and is unlikely to do so again this Congress.

Earlier this year the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memo to agency employees directing them to consider a greater range of factors, such as employment, criminal history and family status, when deciding whether to deport a person in the country illegally. The move has garnered a significant amount of Republican opposition in Congress.