Nearly 50 years after the abolition of the Jim Crow laws in the United States, no one can claim that race does not play an important role in the country’s everyday life and in politics.
Recently, a video appeared on the internet in which Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, claimed that winning the 2012 presidential election would be a lot easier for him if he were only Latino.
Upon the video’s release, members of the Latino community were outraged, leading Latina comedian Rosie Perez to claim that his comments may cause Romney to lose the election. Many began to accuse Romney of using racial resentment to promote his campaign. While the comment exposed Romney’s lack of sophistication and ability to analyze the electorate’s motives for choosing one candidate over another, it also highlighted another phenomenon that is getting far less media attention — the candidate’s awareness that a significant segment of American society is unable to identify with him.
Race may very well be the only card that Mitt Romney has to play if he is going to succeed in garnering enough support before the election in November. The reality on the ground is that neither candidate is representative of the population. Both candidates attended Ivy League institutions. Following a career in business, Mitt Romney amassed a net worth of approximately $250 million. Obama’s earnings are much more humble. The current president is estimated to have a personal wealth of approximately $10 million. As of June 2012, there were 5.1 million people in the United States with $1 million or more. In a country with a population of over 300 million, it is evident that a majority of Americans wouldn't relate to the economic affluence and lifestyle of both candidates. What Obama does have that Romney lacks, however, are policies that would benefit the American working class, and a physical appearance that allows many middle class and low-income people to identify with him. Romney’s comment about being Latino demonstrates his belief that physical appearance alone would be enough to convince members of the constituency that he is protecting their interests, even if he is not.
Meanwhile, Romney is aware that a united American working class would be detrimental to his campaign. By attempting to pit white and minority workers against one another through racial resentment, Romney is hoping to convince white workers that he is on their side and thus swing the election in his favor. These are the motives behind his recent campaign ad that accuses Obama of aiding and abetting welfare recipients who don’t plan on going back to work. In an article entitled, “Why (and how) Romney is playing the Race Card, author Ron Fournier claims that thanks to Romney, the white working class “sees minorities grabbing at their way of life every day and all day in the inaccurate welfare add.” Romney is cynically attempting to use racial references to co-opt hundreds of thousands of working class white Americans who are concerned with the uncertainty of their economic future and are looking for a scapegoat for their own vulnerability. If successful, Romney will have convinced working people to vote against their interests based on a myth of racial solidarity.
Romney, however, is right to worry that his unpopularity among ethnic minorities may cost him the election. Recent polls show that out of 300 registered Latino voters, only 20% stated that they would vote for Romney. An additional 55% of those surveyed stated that they would vote for Obama. The fact is that people of color have consistently voted for Democratic candidates because their policies favor that demographic. Clinton received 83% of the black vote in 1992, and 86% in 1996. Al Gore received 90% of the black vote in the 2000 elections. These were black voters choosing to elect white candidates based on policy preferences, not physical appearance. If Romney is simpleminded enough to believe that looking slightly more like members of the proletariat would blind people to the fact that his policies don’t favor them, he is more delusional and out of touch with the American people than many originally perceived. One thing is certain, however, and that is that both candidates covet Latino voters. What will be interesting to observe is how this demographic is able to lobby for its own interests as its influence on politics increases in the coming years.