GOP’s Racial Gamble Backfiring

As has been evident since at least 2008 (but was best explained earlier this year by Jonathan Chait), this year’s Republican campaign has been based on a big strategic gamble that a deliberate alienation of black and brown voters would ultimately matter less than a full mobilization of Republican strength among older white voters–at least long enough to produce a GOP government that would repeal Obamacare and disable as much of the New Deal and Great Society legacy as it can reach.
A big part of that strategy, a Republican takeover of the Senate, is already on the brink of failure. But more generally, the calculation that African-American and Latino voters wouldn’t turn out at anything like 2008 levels, making elevated white vote margins for the GOP the ultimate trump card, isn’t looking as smart as it once did.

New evidence of that conclusion was supplied today by the final tracking poll from impreMedia/Latino Decisions. It shows Obama’s performance among likely Latino voters spiking just before Election Day at 73% (with 24% for Romney), which would represent the highest Latino percentage ever for a presidential candidate, and a significant improvement over Obama’s 67/31 margin in 2008.

But just as interesting is this finding:

Among likely voters, 55% say they are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012 than in 2008, with only 22% saying they were more enthusiastic in 2008. In looking to the Tuesday election, 74% of likely Latino voters say they are “very enthusiastic.”

These enthusiasm levels aren’t broken down by candidate preference, but given Obama’s margin, and the fact that we are already talking about “likely voters,” it has to be a good sign for the president.

This is, of course, just a tracking poll (as will be the Final Gallup Tracking Poll numbers that Republicans are looking forward to with bated breath); impreMedia/Latino Decisions will release a full poll of Latino voters in key states later today. But it does seem the assumption of some GOP strategists that Latinos would be so discouraged by the economy that they’d stay home while nativists snake-danced to the polls to reward the GOP for its lurch into Tancredo-land might have short-term, not just long-term, negative consequences.

UPDATE: At WaPo, Jamelle Bouie makes the important point that it’s not just immigration positioning that’s depressed Republican performance among Latinos: the GOP’s violent opposition to health reform is a big loser in this demographic, and Obama’s appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is a often-forgotten plus for him. I’d add to that the observation that the fundamental anti-government posture of today’s Republican Party is simply out of line with Latino sentiments as an “aspirational community” deeply aware of government’s role in expanding opportunity.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.