Victoria is Assistant Dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a contributor to MSNBC and Telemundo. Her areas of expertise in the domestic policy landscape include immigration, Latinos, women and childcare, and economic equity. more→
Victoria brings an interdisciplinary lens to understanding policy development and its intersection with institutional and political contexts. Underlying her academic work is the applicability of rigorous research to on-the-ground policy realities.
This post originally appeared on NBCLatino.
The past six months has been a roller coaster of social issues – the Sandy Hook shooting, the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, the Zimmerman trial, and the immigration reform congressional drama. These issues have gripped the country inflaming passions on both sides of the issues. And while we may not be in the midst of a full-blown culture war, we have witnessed a number of cultural battles as of late.
However the biggest political battle remains, that of the pocketbook. As the nation grapples with different social issues, the elephant in the room, for both parties, is the economy. As we approach the 2014 mid-term election, issues from how we hold Wall Street accountable to how folks on Main Street can make ends meet will begin to dominate the conversations, starting with the President’s speech on the economy today.
We are six years removed from the Great Recession. While things have gotten better, the economy is still not back to its pre-recession strength. This is the Achilles heel of the president and more broadly the Democratic Party. The Republican Party knows this and will be going on the attack, seeking out voters that still feel the pain of the worst economic period since the Great Depression.
All Americans were hit by the recession – but Latinos were the hardest hit. Latinos lost 66 percent of their wealth and have suffered rates of unemployment that just recently dipped below the double digits. To put it mildly, Latinos have had a rough time under President Obama’s watch. As a result, one group that the president will be talking to in his speech this week and in the months to come is Latinos.
At first sight it may seem that the president’s support of immigration reform would neutralize any economic policy vulnerability among Latinos. But this is not necessarily the case. To begin,polling consistently shows that both immigration and the economy are top concerns for Latinos. In the lead-up to the presidential election over half of Latino voters indicated that the economy and jobs were the most important issues facing the country followed by one-third of Latinos indicating that immigration was the most important issue.
Immigration is a deeply personal issue for Latinos, but the ability to find a job, pay the rent, and feed one’s family is equally personal.
The second weakness Democrats face is that the entire issue of immigration may be taken off the table later this year. Latinos have been turned off by the GOP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and inaction. But if the Republican-led House of Representatives is able to pass immigration reform, the GOP will be able to start healing its Latino wounds.
Republicans may not be able to court a large chunk of Latino cross-over voters, but they may be able to dissuade Latinos from turning out and supporting the Democratic party. Just as recently as ten years ago Latinos showed that they were willing to support a Republican agenda that was immigrant friendly and more socially and fiscally conservative. If the GOP is serious about expanding its Latino electorate then pocketbook issues may just be the vehicle.
The Democratic Party understands its economic policy vulnerabilities among the Latino electorate. Latinos, like other American voters, are deeply concerned with the state of the economy. While a host of cultural and social issues may be swirling in our context at the end of the day it all boils down to the economy; or in the infamous words of James Carville, “it’s the economy, stupid!”