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PLAYING THE “LATINO CARD”: Race, Ethnicity, and National Party Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2004

Luis Ricardo Fraga
Department of Political Science, Stanford University
David L. Leal
Department of Government, The University of Texas at Austin


The Democratic and Republican parties both pursue a Downsian median voter strategy that has direct implications for the role of African Americans and Latinos in national politics. The driving force in much national politics is still the politically polarizing Black-White divide in the South, which provides the necessary foundation for a nationally competitive Republican Party. This Black-White racial divide also pushes the Democratic Party to deracialize its campaigns as guided by the strategy of the Democratic Leadership Council. Counterintuitively, however, the more recent strategy of the Republican Party also contains symbolic appeals to racial inclusion with a specific focus on Latinos and a consistent marginalization of African Americans. These are efforts to soften their social conservatism to appeal to moderate “swing” White voters. We conclude that the current politics of race and ethnicity in national party politics, by Republicans and Democrats, can serve to marginalize the interests of both African Americans and Latinos in substantive policymaking.

© 2004 W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research

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An earlier version of this essay was presented at The Color Lines Conference, The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, August 30–September 1, 2003.



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