Facing South

Election 2008: Shifting Latino vote helped Obama win in Florida

The economy was the probably the biggest issue to elect Barack Obama. But the Democrats were helped by another big factor: Obama's strong support among Latino voters.

Nationally, 9 percent of the electorate identified as Hispanic in exit polls, and 67% of those voters chose Obama. As the Palm Beach Post notes, the changing Latino vote in battleground Florida was especially critical:

[T]the numbers in Florida are the most intriguing. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the Hispanic vote, surpassing President Bush's 55 percent in 2004, and Sen. McCain got 42 percent. The important story behind the numbers is the continued erosion of the Cuban-American voting bloc that Republicans have counted on for decades.

A decade ago, Cuban-Americans accounted for more than 70 percent of the state's Hispanic voters. In 2008, for the first time, non-Cubans made up a slight majority. Around Orlando, Puerto Rican voters are growing in size and influence. In South Florida, large numbers of immigrants from Latin America have gained citizenship and registered to vote. Across the state, Mexican-Americans have settled and entered the system.

Not only has the dominance of Cuban voters declined Florida politics; the paper also notes a growing generational divide within the Cuban community:

Exit polls showed that 84 percent of Miami-Dade Cuban-Americans over 65 voted for Sen. McCain, and 55 percent of those 29 or younger voted for President-elect Obama. Young Cuban-Americans, most of whom were born here, are leaving the Bay of Pigs to history and questioning the value of a failed trade embargo. To many of them, Castro is a tired anachronism who grows increasingly irrelevant and is hardly worth the political preoccupation.

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