Latino voters seem to have tipped the scales in favor of Democrats like governor-elect Jerry Brown and Sens. Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and Michael Bennet, according to poll results from Latino Decisions. Democratic candidates were preferred in almost every race by Latino registered voters from Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.
“The Latino firewall in the west actually saved the election for Democrats,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, said on a conference call. “Latino voters played a significant role in Senate races.”
Although it is still unclear how many Latinos turned out to vote, the poll taken the night before the election indicates strong support for Democrats. On a generic ballot, 76 percent of the Latino voters polled picked the Democratic candidate over the Republican. Preferences were particularly strong in California, which has the country’s largest Latino population. About 86 percent of Latino voters in the state preferred Democrat Jerry Brown for governor over Republican Meg Whitman, and the same number preferred Democrat Barbara Boxer for Senate over Republican Carly Fiorina.
A majority ranked the economy, jobs and immigration as their top issues for choosing candidates, and most said they wanted to see immigration reform that included paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
In Nevada, where Reid faced a tough race against Republican Sharron Angle for his Senate seat, Latinos seem to have made the difference between winning and losing for the majority leader. Latinos preferred Reid by large margins to Angle, who has run an aggressively anti-illegal immigration campaign that many perceived as anti-Latino.
Latino groups said harsh rhetoric against illegal immigration by Republican candidates mobilized Latino voters, many of whom said anti-Latino or anti-immigrant sentiment influenced their vote. Because Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the country, rights groups said this year’s results could spell bad news for Republicans in 2012 and beyond as Latino voters become more influential.
“Political parties that demonize or take Latinos for granted are doing it at their great risk,” Clarissa Martinez de Castro of National Council of La Raza said on the call.
One exception was in Florida, where the Latino Decisions poll found majority Latino support for Republicans Rick Scott for governor and Marco Rubio for Senate. Florida, though, is generally an exception to most trends in Latino voting due to the large number of Cubans, who are often Republican, and Puerto Ricans, who are born U.S. citizens and therefore less involved in immigration issues. Although Rubio received 62 percent of the vote among Latinos polled Monday, Democrat Kendrick Meek had the advantage among non-Cuban Latino voters.