The Ganas Gap: Obama’s Latino Challenge

obama new mexico

Obama listens at a Rio Rancho, New Mexico, town hall meeting in 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The President has a long list of things to worry about, topped by his approval to disapproval ratio in the general electorate. Among Latinos the downward trend in approval is reflected, but less severe. The big worry for the administration regarding Latinos is not that their disapproval will push them into the arms of the GOP but rather that they will not have the same ganas that they did in 2008.

The Latino Decisions tracking poll has shown Obama’s approval numbers take a steady and continuous tumble.  In the February tracking poll Latino approval of the president was 70%, in June that support slipped to 68% and most recently stands at 63%.  From June to August there was a five percentage point drop. 

The most worrisome numbers are not the aggregate approval numbers, but the slide from “Strongly Approve” to “Somewhat Approve.”  In the June 2011 tracking poll 41% of Latinos “Strongly Approved” and 27% “Somewhat Approved” of the job the President was doing.  This month, the “Strongly Approved” category has plummeted to 28% while the “Somewhat Approved” category stood at 35%.  In other words, the shift in approval has gone from enthusiastic to lukewarm.  In the world of political participation it is the “Strongly Approve” that are going to have the ganas to go through the effort of registering and turning out to vote.

The certainty of intending to vote for President Obama has also sharply decreased.  The Latino Decisions poll includes a question that asks how likely one is to vote for the President or for the Republican candidate.  In the poll from earlier this summer, 49% stated that they were certain to vote for the incumbent President.  Today, only 38% of Latinos state with certainty that they will vote for President Obama. These vote intention statistics are grim, especially when you consider that in this last election (admittedly a midterm) only 31% of eligible Latinos voted, as compared to 48% and 44% for whites and blacks respectively.

victoria defrancesco sotoThe 2008 election saw a very different economic and political climate than the one we are living today.  For the purposes of mobilizing an electorate, especially Latinos, the long and hard fought Democratic primary contributed to hyping up the ganas of Latino voters.  The 2012 presidential election will not see a similar contest on the Democratic side and the related energy that comes with primary campaigns.

There is no fast cure for the ganas gap.  A recovery of ganas is a slow recovery and will entail focusing on rehabilitating the “Somewhat Approve” back up to “Strongly Approve.”  This recovery will be based on policies – a recovery of the economy, and working toward a sensible immigration solution.  In the lead up to the election however, a big shot of mobilization via an all-out air and land campaign will be the Red Bull that can translate the ganas into votes.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto
Dr. VMDS

Published by the LA Progressive on September 5, 2011
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About Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2007 during which time she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. DeFrancesco Soto was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine.

Victoria’s research analyzes how human thought and emotion shapes political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. Her academic research has been widely published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto was Northwestern University’s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 Presidential election. She is currently working on a book manuscript that analyzes the emergence of conservative feminism.