Dems to Get Huge Boost from Univision Latino Citizenship Drive
by Democratic Courage, Fri May 11, 2007 at 09:36:36 AM EDT
Spanish-language television giant Univision has launched a wildly successful campaign urging its audience to become U.S. citizens - and it may pay huge dividends for Democrats. According to an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Univision's initial run of the campaign in Los Angeles caused citizenship applications to jump 123 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the first three months of last year (compared to a 59 percent increase in the rest of the United States). Now, Univision is sending its campaign national and similar results are expected nationwide - with major gains forecast for Democrats as a result.
The citizenship drive, which is about to go national, could help turn Latinos into a key electoral constituency in several states. A larger bloc of new Latino voters would likely influence the immigration debate that has been dividing the country. In part because of this, Hispanic voters in recent elections have tended to cast ballots mostly for Democrats. For instance, in the 2006 congressional contest, Republican candidates who take a harder line on illegal immigrants than their rivals garnered only 31% of the Latino vote.
Apart from immigration, Hispanics are animated by education and employment policies, so their greater participation could shape candidates' stances on those issues as well. Given past voting patterns, "a surge in naturalizations will benefit Democrats at least twice as much as Republicans," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization. The impact could be biggest in Southwestern states such as Arizona, but it could reach as far as Florida, which recently has experienced a large influx of non-Cuban Hispanic immigrants.
In 2004, Bush won several heavily Latino states, including Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, by small margins - it's expected that the new citizens will help shift the balance of power there.
Univision deserves a great deal of credit for the extent to which they've pushed the campaign.
It is difficult to overstate how much firepower Univision is putting behind the effort. With a catchy slogan, "Ya Es Hora" ("It's About Time"), the campaign in L.A. has been integrated into every local newscast, in addition to being flogged in public-service announcements throughout the day.
During news shows, anchors pop questions from the civics test that applicants for citizenship are required to pass, such as "How many stars are on the U.S. flag?" Against a backdrop of stars soaring through the U.S. flag and the Statue of Liberty, a ticker counts down, from a goal of one million for the L.A. area, the number of persons who have applied for citizenship since the campaign started in Southern California. On Saturday mornings, a 30-minute program is devoted to teaching viewers the ABCs of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Of course, Democrats are going to have to continue to aggressively court Latinos if they want to retain the advantage that this Univision campaign seems to be giving them: Latino voters show many signs that they may act similarly to other largely Catholic ethnic groups that have come to this country as Democrats, become prosperous, and gradually become more conservative and Republican. Indeed, it's easy to see the impact of this process in Latino part registration statistics: foreign born Latinos call themselves Democrats by a 47-13 margin; native born Latinos are just 40 to 26 percent Democratic.
To a great extent, appealing to Latinos will require the same things that appealing to the rest of the electorate will: courageous politics, sincerity, and success in governance. In addition to immigration issues, Latino voters are also widely thought to put a high priority on family issues like education and health care. But there's one issue that hasn't gotten that much attention which could be key to winning Latino support: the environment. A number of state polls have indicated that Latino voters are more supportive of strong environmental protections than any other ethnic group - and that the environment is a bigger factor for them than other ethnic groups in their voting decisions - upending the (hopefully-dead) stereotype that the environment is just an issue for rich white dudes. Obviously, there are great reasons for this: not only do Latinos care as much or more than other communities about global issues like tropical forest conservation, whales, and climate deterioration, they also tend to see first hand the impacts of pollution: as with other minority communities, Latinos tend to suffer the effects of pollution at a higher rate than the population at large: with more asthma, cancer, and deaths. When I started work as an environmental organizer with Greenpeace in the overwhelmingly Chicano community of East Los Angeles, it didn't take long to convince people there that protecting the environment should be a priority: the acrid air they woke up to every morning was argument enough.
There's one issue that brings together Latino concern about the environment with concern about immigration laws: the concrete wall the Bush administration is building along the United States border with Mexico through wildlife refuges, Native American land, and longstanding communities. Not only is it offensive to our neighbor Mexico (and to people on both sides of the border), but it will also doom rare wildlife like the jaguar, ocelot, and ferruginous pygmy owl that range over both sides of the Sonoran and Sky Island ecosystems on the border. Democrats (and the environmental movement) could prevent much of this offensive wall from being built by refusing to fund it - if they show some courage in standing up against anti-environment, anti-Latino demagogues in the Republican Party who are cynically using the wall (which they know won't work to actually keep illegal immigrants out of the United States) to try and capitalize on strong anti-immigrant sentiment.
Now, with increasing numbers of Latino voters demanding Democrats stop abominations like the wall, perhaps Democrats will find the backbone to stop it.