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Although Barack Obama won, the bitter campaign divided the US. The president emerges with a tenuous mandate and an urgent domestic to-do list. Abroad, a new world order is rising from the euro crisis, the Arab Spring and emerging Asia, and US leadership will be key. In this series, GlobalPost's far-flung correspondents bring you insights into how President Obama's re-election will impact their regions.
GlobalPost speaks to Tufts political ethnicity and identity scholar Deborah Schildkraut about keys to winning the Latino vote in 2012.
for them. So yes, for some of them, the [Deferred Action for Child Arrivals initiative] will get them enthusiastic again. Especially as the campaign unfolds and you get to debates, where surely immigration will come up, voters will actually get to juxtapose, in the same room, the two different visions. And these candidates have some seriously different visions on immigration. The deportations may be a huge black mark on Obama’s immigration record for Latino voters, but the other differences between the parties will probably be significant enough, that for a large segment of Latino voters, they’re going to not only vote for Obama, but they’re going to be enthusiastic about it. Others might vote for him and hold their nose, saying that they wish he’d done better.
In the 2008 election, Obama claimed nearly 70 percent of the Latino vote. Several polls put him at similarly favorable numbers this election cycle. How do you think 2008 will compare to 2012 in terms of the number of Latino voters at the polls?
I think mobilization across all groups is a challenge for Obama this time around. Not just among Latino voters, among young voters too. It’s not the best time in the country’s history and he’s had his four years to prove himself, so I think it’s going to be hard to get that same level of enthusiasm again. What the poll numbers are showing us is just a breakdown. If the election were held today who would you vote for? That doesn’t show you what people are donating. Are they volunteering? Are they going door to door? That kind of stuff is where the enthusiasm really matters. And I do think that will be a challenge for Obama.
According to census data, North Carolina has an estimated 100,000 registered Latino voters, though some groups say the number could be almost twice that. It's a small part of the state's roughly 6 million voters, but in an election that could hinge on razor-thin margins, many believe that a high Latino turnout could tip the scales. In "battleground" states like North Carolina, most polls show Obama and Romney in a dead heat. What role do you think the conventions and their speakers are playing in swing states?
I don’t think we want to read too much into each single little thing — not to say that having Julian Castro as the keynote speaker at the DNC is a little thing. But elections are really about fundamentals. In a certain number of small places it’s going to be a very thin margin, so [Democrats and Republicans] will be looking for anything that could tip the balance in their favor. I don’t necessarily think that picking Castro is going to be decisive. [Democrats already] knew that they had an advantage with Latino voters. I think it’s a nice gesture, for lack of a better word. But I think it’s his policy stances and the actual substantive argument that he makes, rather than having a Latino speaker at the convention that makes a difference. I actually think it really helps Julian Castro — people now know who he is who had never heard of him before. But will it help the party tip the balance in North Carolina or Colorado? I don’t think so.
Back to that mobilization you mentioned. Can you explain why the debates are a more powerful tool for the candidates than these big, multi-day conventions, that tend to be more emotive and feel more like pep rallies?
Well, more people watch the debates than watch the conventions. People do learn from the debates .... The Republican Convention happened right around Labor Day weekend, there was a hurricane, there were a lot of other things competing for people’s attention. During the debates, people start realizing, “Oh, there’s an election coming up, I should pay attention.” And it’s such a news story. The debates often feature things that then become used in political ads and the messages reverberate more beyond the actual debate itself. It becomes more of a news topic, and gets repeated play. So for those reasons, I think the debates are consequential. And it’s really where you have the two of them juxtaposing their views. I remember seeing an interview once with former presidents’ views on debates, on whether we put too much stock into them. And I remember Bill Clinton said that George Bush Sr. said that he hated preparing for the debates. And Bill Clinton said that he thought the debates were valuable because it really forces the candidates to figure out, “What am I standing for on these issues?” The debates give the candidates a chance to really zero in on what they believe in, and I really think that comes across. You can actually distill what the similarities or differences are between the two candidates in a way that you just don’t get in any other venue.