Saturday, November 22, 2008

Persistent poverty and the 2008 rural vote (Part II): The Hispanic vote

Another segment of the persistently poor, non-metro vote that supported Obama is the “Hispanic or Latino” vote, to use the U.S. Census Bureau terminology [hereinafter Hispanic]. Persistently poor non-metro counties with majority Hispanic populations overwhelmingly supported Obama. So did counties where Hispanics and American Indians together are a majority. (My earlier post about American Indian voters in persistent poverty counties is here, where you can also see a map showing persistently poor non-metro counties).

Texas. In the non-metro Rio Grande Valley, persistently poor counties are often comprised of colonias, unincorporated settlements that often lack basic infrastructure. Obama and McCain split two such persistently poor counties in far west Texas. Hudspeth County (population 3,344), just east of El Paso, went for McCain with 51% of the vote, while Obama garnered 65% of the vote a bit farther east, in Presidio County (population 7,304). Presidio County is 84% Hispanic, while Hudspeth County is 75% Hispanic. It is difficult to imagine, without knowing more about these places, what led to the differing results. Farther southeast along the Rio Grande Valley, Obama mostly cleaned up. In a 23-county area that extends to the coast and then up it toward Corpus Christi, Obama won all except four counties. Of those 23 counties, about two-thirds are persistently poor and non-metro, and all have significant Hispanic populations.

Colorado. Obama pulled in the Hispanic vote in non-metro, persistently poor counties in New Mexico and Colorado, too. In Colorado, the persistently poor counties are in the south central part of the state, including Costilla (population 3,663), Conejos (population 8,400), Alamosa (population 14,966) and Saguache (population 5,917) counties. These counties’ Hispanic populations are 68%, 59%, 41%, and 45%, respectively. Each county is also roughly 2-3% American Indian. These counties overwhelmingly supported Obama, where he garnered 73% (Costilla), 56% (Conejos), 56% (Alamosa), and 62% (Saguache) of the votes cast. For the most part, this voting pattern did not represent change. While all of these counties supported Clinton in ’92 and ’96, Conejos and Alamosa supported Bush in ’00; Alamosa County persisted in that support of Bush in ’04.

New Mexico. Most persistently poor counties in New Mexico have significant numbers of both Hispanic and American Indian voters, and these counties overwhelmingly supported the Democratic ticket in ‘08. Obama won handily in McKinley and Cibola counties, for example, both west of Albuquerque; in Rio Arriba County (population 41,190) on the Colorado line; and in Socorro County (population 18,078) in the south central part of the state. The most populous of these is McKinley County (population 74,798), whose county seat is micropolitan Gallup. American Indians comprise 75% of the county, and 12% are Hispanic. (For a detailed report on the economy and demographics of McKinley county, read a joint report on enduring poverty by the Federal Reserve and the Brookings Institute here, pp. 101-07). Seventy-one percent of voters in McKinley County favored Obama; Kerry, Gore and Clinton also won McKinley County, albeit by somewhat smaller margins.

In Rio Arriba, which is 73% Hispanic and 14% American Indian, 75% of voters supported Obama. (Read an earlier post about social problems in Rio Arriba County here). Cibola County, with just 25,595 residents, is 40% American Indian and 34% Hispanic. Socorro County is about half Hispanic and a tenth American Indian. Obama garnered 64% in Cibola County and 59% in Socorro County.

In each of these four counties then, the lower the percentage of American Indians, the lower the percentage of Obama voters. This pattern does not hold, however, for San Miguel County (population 30,126), to the east of Santa Fe. There, 78% of residents are Hispanic and just two percent are American Indian, but a whopping 80% of voters supported Obama. The demographics of neighboring (and also persistently poor) Mora (population 5,180) and Guadalupe (population 4,680) counties are similar, as were their degrees of support for Obama, at 78% and 71%, respectively.

As I suggested in an earlier post, the Taos County (population 29,979) vote may be more complicated. Although the county is persistently poor, it is also in the midst of rural gentrification; the actress Julia Roberts, for example, has a home there. The median income in the county is $26,762, while the per capita income is $16,103. Perhaps second-home owners such as Roberts are not counted in the Census there, which shows a populace that is 58% Hispanic and 7% American Indian. Eighty-two percent of Taos County voters chose Obama.

Interesting for its red status among New Mexico’s persistently poor counties is Roosevelt County (population 18,018), which borders Texas. Just one-third of its populace is Hispanic, and Obama got just 34% of the vote there. In fact, Roosevelt County has not supported a Democrat for President in the last five elections (as far back as the NYT website provides data), and probably much longer.

Another persistently poor county in the southwest part of New Mexico, Luna County is a bit less consistent in its voting patterns. Luna County, population 25,016, was notably tepid in its support of Obama, giving him just under 52% of the vote. This county is on the border with Mexico and is 58% Hispanic. Indeed, Luna is the only persistently poor county in New Mexico that is majority non-white that has not consistently voted Democratic in the past five Presidential elections. Voters there supported Bush in ’00 and ’04.

Arizona. Several geographically large but sparsely populated Arizona counties went for Obama. Among these was Apache County, on the New Mexico state line, and Coconino County, a massive county in the north central part of the state (discussed some here). Navajo County, between Coconino and Apache Counties and home to newly gentrified Winslow, went for McCain by a narrow margin. Apache and Navajo Counties are persistently poor, Coconino County is not, but had a 2000 poverty rate of 16.7%. The Navajo Nation comprises large parts of Apache (78%), Navajo (48%) and Coconino (29%) counties. (Their Hispanic populations are 4%, 25%, and 11%, respectively). It appears that in Apache and Coconino counties, these American Indian and Hispanic populations (in addition to the gentrification element in Coconino County) were sufficient to give Obama local victories on McCain’s home turf. The dynamic in persistently poor Navajo County, which supported McCain with 55% of the vote, is a bit harder to figure, though it’s worth noting that voters there also supported Bush in ’00 and ’04.

At the other end of the state, compact and more densely populated Santa Cruz County, on the Mexican border, supported Obama, too. He garnered 65% of the vote in this county of 38,381, where 80% of residents are Hispanic. While Santa Cruz is not a persistently poor county, as of the 2000 Census, almost a quarter of its residents were living in poverty.

Interestingly, most Arizona counties that supported Obama also supported Kerry in ’04 and Gore in ’00. Clinton, however, won several additional counties in ’92 and ’96.

For more analysis of the Hispanic and Latino vote in the ’08 race, visit sites here and here.

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