Obama reaches out to Iowan Latinos

Thaddeus Mast

The Obama campaign recently started the Latinos for Obama Lideres Council in Des Moines. The council’s purpose is to raise support for Barack Obama by speaking to the opinion leaders.

“A lot of political communication happens in what is often called a two-step flow, where someone gives information to opinion leaders, and that’s what we’re talking about with this council,” said Mack Shelley, university professor of political science at Iowa State. “Those opinion leaders then, in turn, transfer the message to the folks on the ground on the grassroots level.”

It appears Obama is reaching out to the Latino/a population in Iowa, whose population has increased by 84 percent in the last decade. However, even with this increase, the Hispanic population in Iowa is only 4 to 5 percent of the total population. That could, however, make the difference between a win or lose.

“If you’re stretching a close election that might go 1 or 2 percentage points in favor of both presidential candidates, then if you can even get half a percentage point or so increase in your base support that equally could make a difference on the outcome,” Shelley said. “It could have an impact all the way up and down the ticket, from president on down to dogcatcher.”

Obama already has a bit of a lead when it comes to Hispanic voters.

“If you look at trends in national level, especially presidential elections, the Hispanic vote has, for most of the 20th century and so for even more so into the 21st century, been heavily Democratic, but it depends on where you are,” Shelley said.

Whichever way the Hispanic vote falls as a whole, Loreto Prieto, director of U.S. Latino/a studies at Iowa State, wants to remind us they are a group of people with different ideas.

“Latinos/as, like other U.S. cultural groups, are extremely heterogeneous; they do not all vote the same way, belong to the same political party or vote as one big “block” as if they all have a like mind.”

Even though the number of Latinos/as may be large, many of those people will not actually vote.

“Like many other U.S. citizens, all Latinos/as who are eligible to register to vote do not register,” Prieto said. “Of those that do register, many do not actually vote. So, like any other demographic group in the U.S., the number of Latinos/as that go to the polls is far less than the number of those that could go.”

So is this council going to help Obama’s chances this fall?

“I’m afraid the stark answer is it’s too soon to say,” Shelley said. “I don’t think we’ll know for sure what the affect is until we get another month or so down the road.”