Latina women made their voices heard on Tuesday. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 12 million Latinos voted in this election and 76 percent of Latina women voted for Obama. The number of Hispanic women voting for Obama was higher than the 65 percent of Hispanic men who supported him.
Vanessa Cardenas, Executive Director of the Center for American Progress 2050 Project, says that 68 percent of Latinas voted for President Obama in the 2008 election, an increase of nearly 10 percent. She attributes the increase in Latinas voting for Obama to a greater resonance and relevance of the Democratic party’s message with Latinas’ needs. According to Cardenas, 78 percent of Latinas said they trust Democrats to make the right decisions for women.
“Latinas really support and really believe in the values that the president has presented. Whether they’re talking about immigration, health care, or the economy, all of these issues are deeply connected to Latinas,” Cardenas explained. “They face disparities with healthcare, pay equity, so they really are more vulnerable, and you can say that the president really aligned with what Latinas expect.”
Cardenas says that on many key issues of the campaign, Latinas tended to fall in line with Obama’s positions. While most Latinas are conservative on abortions, Cardenas says that more than 40 percent still are pro-choice.
For Patricia Valoy, 26, reproductive rights played a significant role in her decision on vote for Obama. She said that she feels that Obama understands that women have priorities outside of their home and families. “I can’t imagine being told when and how I can have children,” she says.
“I voted as a woman first,” says Valoy.
In addition to reproductive rights, health care was an important issue for many Latina voters, particularly mothers. Noemi Garcia, 28, says that recently becoming a mother has made her more passionate about her political beliefs. Obamacare was a major factor for her in this election. A September Latino Decisions poll had Hispanic women with a 53-point margin in favor of Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. And they delivered.
“I’m a Democrat because they speak to my core values. I believe in equality for everybody,” she says.
Garcia also feels she has a different perspective on benefits from working in human resources. “I think the health care system needs an overhaul,” she says.
For Cardenas, Latinas’ views on healthcare issues may stem from the fact that they have historically been affected by high rates of specific illnesses. She says that Hispanic women have some of the highest rates of cervical cancer with rates seven times as high as that of white women.
In addition to the issue of healthcare and the controversial comments about rape and abortion, the GOP’s rhetoric about immigrants may have also alienated Latina voters.
“If you compare platforms, there’s a huge difference between a candidate who support the DREAM Act and a candidate who says I want everyone to self-deport,” Cardenas says.
Helen Torres, Executive Director of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, emphasized the effect of the larger conversation around immigration on Latinas. Torres says that there was a wide enthusiasm gap between Latinas voters in the 2008 and 2012 election, but President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals made a difference.
“When the president announced Deferred Action, things started changing for him. You really saw Latinas mobilizing around him in larger numbers,” Torres says. “The terminology coming out is illegals and self-deportation, anchor babies. How can you contribute to the discussion using those terms?”
Torres also explained that Latina opposition to such terms may stem from a “don’t mess with our children” mentality.
“Even if they’re not parents to those children, it really made Latinas take a second look on who to trust more,” Torres explained.
Even still, some Latinas are unhappy about how the Obama administration has handled immigration issues so far. Andrea Gutierrez, 30, voted for Obama but is still doubtful.
Gutierrez says she felt like she was choosing the lesser of two evils, but that the choice between Obama and Romney was clear-cut for her because she believes the Republican Party is racist.
“I wasn’t really Gung-ho about Obama. Under his watch there have been the most deportations,” she says.
Despite her skepticism, Gutierrez is still hopeful. “There is no way they can ignore us anymore. I would like to see the DREAM Act actually pass,” she says.
Jobs and the economy were also a top concern for Latino voters. Liz Salinas, 32, who volunteered for the Obama campaign, says, “I understand that recovery isn’t something that happens overnight.”
Dolores Alvarado, 31, says she voted for Romney because she felt he could better handle our economy. “Romney is a successful businessman,” she says.
Alvarado is unhappy with the election results and believes that Obamacare will also harm the economy. “Obamacare is a tax and it’s taxing middle-income families and small business owners,” she says.
“I don’t understand why Latinas voted for him,” she adds.
But women did show up to vote for Obama. NBC News exit polls show 55 percent of women voted to re-elect Obama, which is the same number as in 2008. And it was one sector of women who again came out strong, 67 percent of unmarried women said they voted for Obama.
“I’m relieved. It was looking scary,” Garcia says. “Now I’m really hoping he can keep working on things like back gay marriage and finish the final phases of the healthcare plan.”
“It shows were not ready to give up on him,” Salinas, 32, says. “I look forward to coming together and working together for the betterment of people.
For Cardenas, the increase in Latina voters is not just a good thing for Obama, but for the rest of the country as well.
“This really bodes well for the community. Latinas really are the fabric that unites our communities. It’s really crucial for the politics of our nation that they come out in such high numbers,” Cardenas says.
Hispanic women showed strong support for Obama in this election but Torres says that there is an increasing number of independent Latina voters as well.
“There is a growing number of Latinas not aligned with a party,” Torres says. “As the Latina vote grows, the opportunity for politicians to deliver on immigration reform and meaningful job development is what will matter moving forward.”
Jacquellena Carrero contributed to this report.
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or erikalsanchez.com.