NDN Blog

New West, New Voters, New Era

The Nevada primary is an historic event in that it marks the beginning of a serious effort to recognize the significance of the Hispanic vote in American politics, especially within the Democratic Party. But just how significant?

On the one hand, I think the caucus will be just the first of many "firsts." Nevada is still not New Hampshire or Iowa. Nevada's party officials adopted and borrowed from the Iowa model, and turnout in Iowa until this year was always quite low; so I think people should brace for the strong possibility of low turnout generally, and perhaps among Hispanics specifically. After all, a caucus is physical, deliberative democracy that requires face-to-face politicking. For Hispanics who may speak English as a second, not-always-confident language, the kinds of barriers that Iowans feel will be higher still. But even among non-Hispanic Nevadans, the unfamiliarity of the process may be enough to discourage turnout. By Monday, the lesson of Nevada may be "no lesson." On the other hand, issues related to the West and to Hispanics more specifically are unavoidable for candidates of both parties. And though the centerpiece issue is, of course, immigration, there are a raft of "aspirational agenda" issues that affect Hispanics, from education to health care. And yes, many Hispanics are in the military and a subset of them have served (and some of those have died) in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Turning specifically to the Democrats, in many ways John Edwards offers a powerful dose of aspirational agenda themes. He comes from a state with a small, but growing Hispanic population, and one that features one of the Judis-Teixeira "ideolopolis" areas (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) that characterize the "new West," with its Tucson-Phoenix, Albuquerque-Sante Fe, Denver-Boulder corridors. Barack Obama is a racial minority, and there is ample evidence of black-brown coalition building in the political science literature, if more among elites than masses. Finally, there is Hillary Clinton, who has for some time maintained strong support among Hispanics, and may particularly benefit from Latina voters.

But I think, despite the important focus here by NDN and others on the nascent power of Hispanic votes, that the real test of Nevada's significance, and that of the west more generally, will also be the attitudes and preferences of those who have relocated to the West not from Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, but those who have relocated from other parts of the country. These transplants are trying to make new lives for themselves in the new West, and they bring their own set of aspirations about control over their school boards, and bigger houses/land for the dollar, and new economy jobs, and a desire for open spaces and environmental protection. The candidate that speaks to them will have an edge this week...and the party that speaks to them will have an edge in November. This, in my humble view, is the new calculus of the new politics of the so-called New West in this (hopefully) new political era we find ourselves entering.

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