What Do Latinos Think About Whitman After Housekeeper-Gate?
The day after Meg Whitman said that people who hire undocumented immigrants should be held accountable, a woman named Nicandra Diaz-Santillan came forward claiming to be her former housekeeper. She accused Whitman of knowingly employing an undocumented immigrant in her home for nine years.
Whitman denied the allegations, saying she fired Diaz-Santillan as soon as she found out the housekeeper was undocumented.
It’s the latest twist in Whitman's campaign to be the next governor of California, and it has political observers wondering how the news will affect her standing among Latino voters. The trouble is, where Latino voters stand on Whitman isn't exactly clear.
A poll released Thursday by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that Democrat Jerry Brown is leading his Republican opponent by 7 percentage points among Latino voters.
Two polls released last week presented two very different pictures: The Field Poll found Brown leading Whitman by just 3 percentage points among likely Latino voters, while an L.A. Times/USC poll by Latino Decisions found that Brown’s lead among the same group of voters was as much as 26 points.
Latinos have become some of the state's most sought-after voters, representing about one-fifth of California’s electorate. Whitman and Brown will even face off Saturday in a debate at California State University's Fresno campus, to be hosted by Univision and broadcast in Spanish—a first for a gubernatorial debate in the state.
But the wide variation in recent poll numbers has some political observers unsure about what they can expect from Latino voters in November.
“Both our survey and the LAT/USC survey were based on relatively small samples,” says Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “Ours included 97 Latino likely voters, while the LAT/USC Poll included 209 Latino likely voters. Thus, the corresponding sampling errors of each poll are quite large.”
"There is considerable room for overlap between these two poll estimates," DiCamillo adds. "My advice from a statistical standpoint would be that the ‘true’ population value of Latino preferences in the governor's race falls somewhat in between these two estimates.”
The difference in the polling data may also reflect an inherent fallibility when it comes to predicting the so-called “Latino vote”—a term that includes both third-generation Californians and first-generation immigrants from Mexico to Argentina.
“It’s definitely a more diverse minority group,” admits Dr. Matt Barreto, a pollster with Latino Decisions and a political science professor at the University of Washington. “But we find very consistently that there’s a strong majority that identify as Latino, that have a shared experience with other Latinos in the U.S., and that’s especially pronounced in the wake of the [anti-illegal immigration] Arizona law … because when they pull you over, they don’t ask what generation you are.”
As a Republican in California, Whitman is going up against an anti-immigrant image the GOP has earned among Latinos that goes back to Prop. 187 in 1994.
“Most Latino voters have not forgiven the Republican Party for Prop. 187,” says Fernand Amandi, managing partner with Hispanic polling agency Bendixen & Amandi in Miami. “That feeling has been underscored in the last couple of years, that the Republican Party is not a friend of the Latino community in California.”
Prop. 187, introduced by Pete Wilson, aimed to ban undocumented immigrants from accessing social services. Instead, it sparked a backlash among Latino voters, which has been largely credited with a series of Democratic wins in the state. Wilson is now working behind the scenes as Whitman’s campaign chairman.
“There’s a saying in Spanish: Tell me the type of people you associate with, and I’ll tell you the type of person you are,” Amandi says. “The question is, Will Meg Whitman be able to win back support from the [Latino] community? Can she convince them that she’s a different kind of Republican?”
For her part, Whitman is advertising extensively in Spanish-language media, focusing on jobs, and performing a delicate balancing act on the issue of immigration. She has said she opposes sanctuary cities, driver’s licenses for undocumented, and a path to legalization. But she also has said she would not have signed the recent immigration bill enacted in Arizona and that she would support a guest-worker program.
But political observers say actions by the GOP nationally—including its opposition to the DREAM Act in the U.S. Senate and its sponsorship of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070—have already galvanized the Latino electorate in California.
“That whole [Arizona] narrative has once again caused Latinos to be proactive in voting,” says Fernando Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount. “Spanish-language media has pushed that message.”
The largest Spanish-language newspaper, La Opinión in Los Angeles, has also been carefully tracking the way immigration has played out in the campaign. A May 26 editorial called the GOP gubernatorial primary race “nasty,” as Whitman and Steve Poizner took jabs at each other to see who was more conservative on immigration. Editors encouraged readers to remember how ugly things had gotten when they went to the polls in November.
While some Spanish-language media blamed the recent failure of the DREAM Act on Republican senators, an editorial in the Sept. 26 edition of La Opinión blamed both parties—Democrats for introducing the measure during an election year, and Republicans for opposing it.
“What a dilemma Democrats and Republicans present for Latinos,” the editors wrote. “Democrats raise expectations, even if false, to win our voters’ support. Republicans are ready to spread slanderous rumors about our young people to win the votes of those resistant to immigration. One group wants to placate Latinos and the other to set them on fire.”
But despite these conflicting messages at a national level, political observers don’t expect Latinos in California to sit out the November elections.
Latinos know the stakes in this election, according to Guerra, who expects Latino voter turnout to be only slightly lower than that of the general population.
Polling data is only one possible indicator of the Latino vote, he notes; political observers also look at trend data—the voting patterns Latinos have shown in the past. “The actual votes show that Latinos have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic candidates for governor, senator, and president, by over 20 points,” Guerra says. “If you go by those trend lines, there is nothing to suggest that anything’s changed.”
“I don’t think you see a tremendous antagonism toward Whitman as a candidate,” Guerra adds. “However, there is an antagonism towards the Republican Party of California, and she’s the candidate of that party.”
“The strategy for Republicans is not to win the Latino vote,” Guerra said, “but to narrow that gap.”