A week has passed since President Barack Obama handily defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the Electoral College count (332-206) for the office of the presidency. While Obama grabbed approximately 61 million votes compared to Romney’s roughly 58 million, he trounced him among Latino voters. And their decisive backing of the incumbent Democrat by a margin of 71% to 27% can be credited greatly to Latinos’ strong support of the administration’s signature health care/health insurance reform known as the Affordability Care Act (ACA).
Latinos’ support for healthcare reform dates back to the 2008 election, captured so joyously in this pro-Obama video that calls out Obama’s “plan de salud.” (I love this video, and want to hire this band for my first run for office if I ever do that.)
In November 2011, exactly a year before the 2012 general election, Univision/Latino Decisions polled 1,000 Latinos (ME +/- 3.1%) and asked them how they viewed the role of government in ensuring that everyone had access to healthcare, or whether people should be responsible for their own health insurance. The question served, in short, as a proxy on how this block of potential voters viewed the national debate on healthcare. At the time, the ACA was vehemently opposed by the GOP, healthcare and business interest groups, nearly half of the country’s GOP governors, the GOP majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, and most importantly future Republican Party standard bearer Mitt Romney.
In that poll, those favoring government-led healthcare numbered 59% compared to those favoring individual insurance at 29%. Half of those polled answered that they believed Democrats were closer to their position on healthcare compared to Republicans, at a paltry 18%.
At that time, 12 months prior to the general election, the top issue among potential Latino voters was the economy, overwhelmingly, at 40%, but the No. 4 issue was healthcare, at 16%.
On election night on Nov. 6, and in the days following the election, the blogosphere and pundits of all stripes prognosticated on how poorly the Republican Party courted the crucial and incredibly diverse Latino electorate. The group includes those self-identifying as whites and non-whites, Mexican and Central Americans, Cubans, South Americans, Dominicans, and others. The group harbors great economic diversity as well.
ABC News’ Nov. 7 coverage was typical: “Mitt Romney and the Republican Party’s tremendous difficulty appealing to Latino voters dealt a significant blow to their chances of winning in 2012.” Many of the experts suggested that Romney’s campaign miscalculated during the primary when he swung hard right and said he would support “self-deportation.” Such statements, go the conventional wisdom, explain why most of the Latino’s 10% share of the national voting electorate favored Obama. (Numerous media outlets reported that it was the first time since 1996 that a Democratic challenger had won such a high percentage of the Hispanic vote; President Bill Clinton in 1996 grabbed 72% of the Hispanic vote.)
Healthcare issue ignored in the Latino election narrative
Of course this simplistic analysis doesn’t fully explain why Latinos would trust Obama, when his administration was on record as deporting 1.5 times (yes 1.5 times) more immigrants per month than the previous administration of George W. Bush. As of July 2012, according to the Washington Post, the Obama administration had deported 1.4 million immigrants, allegedly targeting dangerous criminals. While Obama’s team mounted a legal challenge to Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law and provided a limited amnesty program to offer limited but not permanent amnesty to nearly 800,000 young immigrant residents in July 2012, his administration’s anti-immigrant actions also clearly alarmed many Latino residents and voters.
So why did they fall so completely and totally for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden over Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan? Clearly, healthcare mattered, and it mattered more than the media has acknowledged. The election was also a very clear referendum on national healthcare reform that Romney and Ryan pledged to dismantle if they won.
In a September 2012 speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Romney stated his agenda clearly: “Obamacare is the wrong way to go … . I will repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that increase choice, slow down the runaway growth of insurance costs, and open the door to more new jobs.”
Such messages completely flew in the face of what Latino voters wanted – a government-led, national healthcare plan. On Nov. 6, Latino Decisions’ election eve poll of 5,600 voters reported virtually unchanged numbers among Latino voters from the poll a year earlier.
The respected polling organization again found healthcare to be the No. 4 issue among the diverse Latino electorate, behind the economy, education, and immigration. The poll virtually repeated numbers found a year earlier, showing 61% of respondents favored leaving healthcare reform in place.
Latino Decisions’ Matt Barreto reportedly told USA Today that from the beginning of the Romney campaign “the most obvious miscue” between Romney and Latino voters was his continued attack on the ACA.
What remains puzzling is why so many media organizations completely ignore that Latino voters, like the majority of the voting public, supported the administration in a clear national referendum on healthcare reform that the GOP, GOP surrogates, many parts of the all-powerful healthcare industry, special and business interest groups opposed with nearly obsessive and feral passion.
The matter is settled, both by the highest court in the land and now by the ballot box. The opponents of the ACA — the market-oriented, limited healthcare reform that was passed by Congress — lost, and they lost decisively. Latinos voters, who so clearly supported the legislation, made that clear as a bell on election night in completely rejecting the GOP, its anti-healthcare reform message, and the former Massachusetts governor.