Surveys of Latino voters show it again and again. President Obama is favored by a majority of likely Latino voters.
But a few that break down Latino voters by national heritage show a little-noticed trend – Dominicans are Obama’s most loyal and enthusiastic supporters among this increasingly important voting bloc.
Across the board, from which candidate they planned to vote for and who they felt cared most about Latinos to who is better for the economy and foreign policy, Dominicans as a rule picked the president, by percentages higher than other Hispanics.
Slightly more than 78 percent of Dominicans nationwide said in a recent poll by Florida International University and El Nuevo Herald that they planned to vote for Obama – far above the 69 percent of Latinos in general who said they would. Dominicans also gave Obama the most support on being the stronger candidate on such things as fixing the economy (78 percent), and handling foreign affairs (81.3 percent).
Dominicans’ values very much align with President Obama’s...Our community has challenges with getting access to quality education, affordable health care.
- Cid Wilson, a New Jersey resident and son of Dominican immigrants
Dominicans cite several key factors for their extraordinarily high support for Obama, including their progressive views on social issues such as civil rights and affirmative action, their community’s struggles with health insurance, the Dominicans’ well-known love for and involvement in politics, and – for a population that includes many biracial and multiracial people – the affinity with Obama’s mixed-race background.
“Dominicans’ values very much align with President Obama’s,” said Cid Wilson, a New Jersey resident and son of Dominican immigrants. “Our community has challenges with getting access to quality education, affordable health care.”
And, added Wilson, who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in September and is on the president’s commission studying the establishment of a Latino museum in Washington D.C., Dominicans simply feel more respected by Obama.
Dominicans often note that Obama has appointed more of their compatriots to public posts than any other U.S. president. Those include Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez, a key figure in the fight against Arizona’s SB 1070, the anti-illegal immigration law that went before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso, among others.
“There’s been a lot of racism in this election,” said Wilson, who sits on boards of both national Latino and African-American civil rights groups. “Most Dominicans have some African ancestry. When we hear racist remarks made toward our president, when he’s called the ‘food stamp president,’ when people question where he was born, these are things we never see happening to a white a candidate. This ‘dog-whistle politics,’ where people are not openly saying they don’t like this president because he’s black, but they’re saying things that are consistent with racism, that alienates Dominicans.”
In New York’s Washington Heights, long a Dominican enclave, political discussions in bodegas and cafes center on elections in the Dominican Republic (it also had a presidential election this year), and the election on Nov. 6.
Ask just about any Dominican there about which candidate they support, and the answer – without fail – is Obama.
“He’s one of us,” said Fiora Acevedo, an insurance agent. “He’s from mixed race, he has a broader perspective and life experience, more empathy with minorities.”
“It is especially moving and important for us how he has developed his own life, personally and professionally,” she said. “He is a good father and husband, and has risen impressively in his career.”
“I admire him personally and professionally. He inspires our people, he is a symbol of hope.”
Echoing many Dominicans, Acevedo says she feels alienated by Gop challenger Mitt Romney and Republicans.
“He seems threatening to me,” she said of Romney, who has struggled to make significant gains among Latinos – a factor about which many of his fellow Republicans openly have expressed concerns. “He seems negative about Latinos.”
She said her sister in Florida called her in recent days, wanting assurance that Acevedo was voting for Obama.
“My sister said that she was relieved I wasn’t voting for Mitt Romney,” she said. “My sister said ‘This man doesn’t care for Latinos, things will become very difficult for Latinos under a Romney presidency. We’ll be tossed aside, our people and our concerns, just tossed to the floor.’”
Republicans and Romney supporters say many Latinos might support the GOP challenger if the party did a better job of reaching out to them.
“Like everyone else, Latinos are influenced by their surroundings, the messaging they receive," said Bob Quasius, president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans, which includes many Latinos and favors comprehensive immigration reform. "It’s not surprising that Latinos of Dominican origin tend to align more with Obama."
He said that a major factor is that more than 80 percent of Dominican Americans in the United States live in the Northeast, "liberal Democratic strongholds, and so the messaging they receive is overwhelmingly from the Democratic Party."
At the same time, he said, "We’ve been urging the GOP to improve outreach to Latinos, and in recent years the RNC has seen the light and placing more emphasis on outreach."
For his part, Jorge Rodriguez, a 19-year-old aspiring photographer from Washington Heights can’t wait to vote in his first presidential election.
“I’m voting for Obama,” he said.
The reasons are many, he added. As a college student, he feels Obama will make tuition more affordable by giving students like him more access to financial aid. His mother, Lourdes, a home health aide, has needed to rely on government programs at times, and Rodriguez says Romney seems to look down on people who need a hand.
“Obama always talks about helping the poor,” he said. “Romney just wants to help wealthy people and leave the poor with nothing. There are people who are trying, but can’t find work, they need help. Obama is more interested about helping poor people and college students, that’s why I’m voting for him.”
Marsha Milan Bethel, who works with alternative schools that serve low-income communities, including Washington Heights, says that many Dominicans fervently support the president’s Affordable Care Act, and are afraid it will be in peril if he is not re-elected.
“That is one of the biggest issues, ‘Obamacare,’” she said. “Many of them don’t have insurance, local health care clinics are really big in Dominican communities.”
But Wilson notes that Obama is also as popular among the Dominican community’s many small business owners, as well as others who are well-off economically.
Jaime Matos, who owns a private investigator business in Kissimmee, Florida, is working around the clock to encourage his fellow Dominicans to vote for Obama.
“He’s got compassion,” Matos said. “He hasn’t done everything perfectly, but he tries and he’s the better candidate for Latinos.”
Matos is part of the Dominican community that is making Florida’s Latino voters a true swing group, and no longer a largely Republican one spearheaded by Cubans, who were a dominant group in Florida and tend to lean Republican. Cubans, to be sure, remain highly influential in Florida politics, but the weight of their votes is seen as likely to grow less pivotal in elections as more Democratic-leaning Latinos settle in the state and turn out to vote.
Latinos make up about 20 percent of Florida’s electorate.
The polls show that in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, Dominicans showed a strong level of support for Obama, again giving the president more favorable ratings than his other Latino supporters.
Nearly 76 percent of Florida’s Dominicans said they planned to vote for Obama, higher than the 74.4 percent of Cubans who said they were voting for Romney (Cubans are the only Latino group that leans toward Romney). Dominicans had the highest percentage (nearly 62 percent) of voters who said they watched the debate already knowing they preferred Obama.
They believed, more than other Latino supporters of Obama, that the president would do a better job with the economy (75.6 percent), immigration (73.3 percent) and foreign policy (75.6 percent).
“Affordable health care,” Matos said, “that is very important to me and other people in the community. I own a business, yet I don’t have health insurance, I can’t afford it. I haven’t seen a doctor in three years. I can’t afford to.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente