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Bad Campaign Strategy: Marketing Yourself As Not As Bad As That Guy

3 October 2010

At Enik Rising, Seth Masket is puzzled why there is dwindling support for the Democratic Party among Latinos:

But can someone explain to me why Latino support for Democrats is plummeting during a year when Republicans have been falling all over themselves to back Arizona-style crackdown laws?

I’ve previously wondered this myself, thinking that despite affinity with many in the Republican party because of shared socially conservative values, I’d expect the immigration debate would trump other issues.

But my [still short] experience in Texas*, including a colleague sharing her perspective on the debate, clarifies the situation. Though the Dems may not be the party backing the Arizona immigration law, they aren’t exactly the pro-immigrant party, either.

If we consider the calculus of voting — that the act of voting typically costs more than the benefits at the individual level — weak Latino support for the Dems is not as surprising. What would motivate Latino Americans to vote for the Dems? Or for that matter, to contribute to campaigns or walk the precincts? Sure, the Dems may not be exactly trying to kick folks out of the country, but they’re also not perceived as welcoming and embracing these new Americans, either. It makes sense that it’s hard to get excited about any candidate whose platform is “I’m not as bad as that guy.”

For those following the Texas governor race, today’s paper had the report on candidates’ positions on immigration, part of “a series examining important issues to Texans” in advance of the Nov. 2 election. Despite the title of “Immigration,” the report actually focused on “Border Security.” The responses of Democratic candidate Bill White (whose daughter makes a Spanish language appeal to voters) don’t strike me as all that welcoming, even though the statements are certainly not as immigrant-unfriendly as those of incumbent Governor Rick Perry.

*In my class on Comparative Responses to AIDS in Africa last Wednesday, we managed to meander to the immigration debate, which ended with three students — one of whom was Latino — talking about large voter fraud by “illegal immigrants” in Texas. None of these students could offer any evidence, but that didn’t change how strongly they believe it to be true and important.

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