President Obama and family arrive on stage in Chicago after winning the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
On Election Day, Jason Frias waited patiently in line at his designated precinct near John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, where he would cast his ballot for President Obama.
Frias, a first-generation college student of Hispanic heritage, was one of millions of Latinos around the country that assisted Obama in clenching a decisive victory against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney last Tuesday. Obama won the Latino vote by 44% over Romney — the largest margin of Latino voter support for a Democrat since former president Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996, according to USA TODAY.
Among Latino voters age 18 to 29, support was even stronger for the president, with an estimated 74% voting in favor of Obama and 23% voting in favor of Romney. These numbers reflect a trend of increased voter participation among individuals under age 30, with 49% casting a ballot in 2012 — close to the 52% in 2008′s historic presidential election, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). The 2012 percentage could increase once all votes have been tallied.
Frias said he and many of his fellow Latino friends supported Obama for his progressive policies that seek to promote inclusivity and increase accessibility to higher education for minority students.
“Being all first-generation college students, born of immigrant parents, and also being college students in New York, we feel a certain drive to fill the future shoes of those who fought and still fight for the progression of Latinos in the United States,” Frias said.
Jasmine Gomez, a student at the University of Florida and the Hispanic Caucus Chair of the UF’s chapter of College Democrats, said the high support for liberal policy among young Latinos is representative of the ideologies held by many college students, regardless of race.
“Many young individuals are becoming more liberal in social issues and the same holds true for Latinos,” Gomez said. “The Republican Party continues to distance itself from too many youths by continuously focusing on issues that draw the largest separation — such as public schooling and school grants, abortion, gay marriage and, especially for Latinos, immigration.”
Carlos Gutierrez, an adviser to Romney on Latino outreach and former commerce secretary, said extremism in the Republican Party was “scaring the heck out of” Latino voters, the Huffington Post reported.
“I think it has to do with our incredibly ridiculous primary process where we force people to say outrageous things, they get nominated, and they have to come back,” Gutierrez said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. He said his party needs to stop “living in the past,” citing the “anti-immigration talk” and “the xenophobes.”
But in Florida two weeks before the election, Romney had been making some gains as nearly half of all Latino voters said Obama had not “fulfilled his promises” to their community, according to a Florida International University/Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald (FIU) poll, ABC News reported. The state, however, eventually went blue after a four-day delay before an official call.
Despite the high turnout among young Hispanics, Sophia Aragon, a student at the University of California – Fresno, opted not to vote. As the daughter of immigrant parents, she said U.S. politics was never particularly salient to her family, influencing her lack of political participation.
However, Aragon said she feels that young Hispanics can resonate with Obama as a fellow minority.
“I feel that because Latinos are people of color they find comfort in having a president of color too, even if he isn’t Latino himself,” Aragon said. “I come from Southern California where there is a strong Latino influence and where a lot of the Latinos are on the lower-income side compared to other parts of the country. It seems that Obama understands the hardships that come with being a Latino with a low income and because he comes off this way, I think that’s where he gains a lot of his support.”
Catherine Urgiles, a student at the University of Michigan and member of the Latino Student Organization, said she feels many young Latinos voted for Obama for his emphasis on immigration reform, an area Republicans have been particularly critical of in recent years.
“Immigration is a huge issue in the Latino community and to have a president create a policy to help DREAM Act eligible youth is something a lot of members in our community support,” she said.
Above all, Urglies said she voted for friends and family members who weren’t eligible in order to ensure that the Hispanic voice was heard.
“I voted for President Obama because I felt he was the right choice for 100% of the people …,” Urgiles said. “My vote was not just for me. It was for family members, friends and people I don’t know who cannot vote because of their statuses as undocumented immigrants.”
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