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The New Supermajority: Latinos and People of Color

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OBAMA CAMPAIGN STAFF
AP

In an unforgiving display of repudiation, Democratic voters pushed backed against the storm of hate and racial intemperance that was unleashed against President Barack Obama and some of his key constituencies over the past four years. Explicit, implicit, and surreptitious racism was pervasive not only during this campaign season but since the first hours of Obama's winning the nomination mantle in 2008. While Tuesday's election was an undeniable rejection by tens of millions of the politics of racial animosity, there should be no illusion that the racial panic being exploited by key leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement is coming to an end anytime soon.

It is no accident that the GOP selected a candidate who has an uncanny resemblance to Ward Cleaver, the always-in-charge, never-incorrect, accountable-to-no-one father on the 1950s Leave it to Beaver television show. Ward, like Mitt Romney, was a businessman, and the Cleavers lived in a virtually all-white television world without messy issues like civil rights, feminism, immigration, and religious pluralism.

This is the imagined world that Romney, the GOP, and Fox News evoked as they talked about "taking back the country." This is the fantasyland that Fox News' Bill O'Reilly pined over when he said on election night, "It's not a traditional America anymore." What O'Reilly and the others meant, of course, was that the assumption of an unchallenged, all-white polity that determined the course of the nation was disappearing in the face of a demographic and paradigmatic shift.

Racist statements by Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorium, and other party leaders fed the current atmosphere that has 31 percent of Republicans (up from 16 percent in 2008!), according the Pew Research Center, who believe that Obama is a Muslim.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that this view is only held by a few extremists in the media, those in the batcrap crazy wing of the Republican Party, and a clutch of fanatical billionaires. These views were reaching and reflecting an increasingly narrowing white base that feels the demographic tide of people of color who are not only moving into the neighborhood but also participating politically. The long-time narrative of "immigrants taking our jobs" has been superseded by the meme of "immigrants -- Kenyan and Mexican in particular -- are taking our government." Indeed, even two of the most conservative states in the nation, Louisiana and South Carolina, have governors of Indian ancestry, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley respectively.

Thus it is not surprising in the least that a new study shows that racist views have increased since Obama took office. In a 2011 study by AP in collaboration with researchers from Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, they discovered that a majority of Americans, 51 percent, voice explicit anti-black attitudes, which is a rise from the 48 percent in a similar survey in 2008. On a test that measured implicit anti-black racial attitudes, the number leaped from 49 percent to 56 percent since 2008.

This trend preceded Obama's election, but his elevation was a nodal point which the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other anti-racist organizers noted created a spike in the number of racial hate groups in the nation. While membership in these groups is relatively minuscule, their proliferation reflects a broader sentiment that has been embraced by many whites, in particular low-educated, working class males.

The rise in racist views coincides and is linked to other studies that show that a majority of whites now believe that anti-white racism is more of a problem that racism against people of color. In a 2011 study published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers found that white Americans believe racism is a zero-sum game and that anti-white bias is increasing, and is a larger problem than anti-black bias. There are a number of other studies that support those findings.

GOP strategists and those who ran the Romney campaign understood these sentiments and the demographic trends that are unfolding. However, rather than develop policies that appeal to the interests of communities of color, and contest racism in their base, they decided to exploit racial fears and go for broke on white racial resentment. No effort whatsoever was made by the Romney campaign to appeal to black voters while anti-immigrant rhetoric -- "self-deportation," "papers please" legislation, opposition to the DREAM Act -- dominated the Republican primaries.

Post-election posturing by the GOP that it will look to better outreach to the Latino community has a hollow (and desperate) ring. This cynical and desultory language is reminiscent of George W. Bush's selection of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, where phenotype diversity was seen as a substitute for diversity of ideas and inclusive policies that the modern conservative movement have rejected.

When it comes to racial politics in national elections, the country is not split, white America is split. In Tuesday's election, continuing a recent trend, Obama won 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote, and 73 percent of the Asian vote. More important, these numbers reflects growing trends toward the Democratic Party. In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, and 62 of the Asian vote. In 2004, 42 percent of Latinos identified themselves as Democrats; in 2012, that number grew to 53 percent.

How dire is the situation facing the Republican Party regarding the Latino vote? In Florida, while Obama lost the Cuban-American vote overall by 52-48 percent -- a fact that in itself is remarkable -- he won the Cuban-American vote of those who actually voted on election day by 53-47 percent. This stunning occurrence more likely reflected that older Cuban-American voters cast absentee and early ballots while younger and more liberal ones actually went to the polls. All trends in Latino voting, including that firewall of all firewalls, the Cuban-American vote, are moving rapidly away from the GOP.

Additionally, each year the "let's get the white vote and ignore the rest" strategy becomes more and more inane. The demographic transformation that is likely giving Karl Rove sleepless nights is the increase in each election cycle of voters of color as a percentage of the vote (and the concomitant decrease in white percentage). In 2012, whites dropped to 72 percent of the electorate from 74 percent just four years ago, while the Latino rate ticked up one percent to 10 percent and the black (13 percent) and Asian (5 percent) remain steady but are also likely to grow. As Voto Latino has noted, about 50,000 young Latinos turned 18 years of age (and into potential voters) every month. Only a wall of citizenship obstacles stand between the last days of "traditional" power and the scaling of that wall by the rainbow coalition heading toward it.

Yet, progressives and the Democratic Party must also find a way to help working class, low-income, low educated whites identify their common interests with communities of color and not the one percent. The dissonance that allows for a disproportionate support for a party that ruthlessly and consistently attacks their security and concerns is rooted in the nation's long and tragic history of racial and class divisions. However, the ground has permanently changed and the nation must forward with a new configuration and distribution of power. Persistent racial disparities, in health, education, unemployment, environmental damage, and criminal justice, must be addressed by public policy, public rhetoric, and public mobilization. Communities of color interests include racial justice but also many other concerns.

Support for Obama, it must be stressed, was overwhelmingly due to the policies that have been articulated and implemented by his administration. While there is plenty of criticism to lay at the door of the administration, the majority of Americans, and supermajorities of people of color, firmly believed that Obama deserved reelection. With a mobilized, energized, and organized progressive base, there is new hope that battle against the far right, who despite their pummeling are not going away, can continue to achieve victories in the months and years ahead.

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