Cracks in the Rainbow: Group Commonality as a Basis for Latino and African-American Political Coalitions

Article excerpt

The focus of this article is on mass attitudes and the propensity of blacks and Latinos to build electoral coalitions. The theoretical argument is that perceived commonality between Latinos and African-Americans is essential to constructing mass political alliances. Using recent public opinion data, this research explores the levels of perceived commonality between blacks and Latinos and in particular studies the process by which Latinos come to feel close to African-Americans. This article tests four main hypotheses: pan-Latino affinity, acculturation, perceived discrimination, and racial identity. Findings suggest that pan-Latino affinity is a robust predictor of Latino/black commonality, but that long-term Latino political acculturation, in its current form, is unlikely to result in particularly high levels of closeness to blacks. The conclusion of the article points to the important role that Latino leadership and political organizations play in promoting strong pan-ethnic identities and suggests that the prospects for future coalitions between African-Americans and Latinos rest, in part, on the development of these more inclusive Latino orientations.

There is power in numbers, and the increasing proportion of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States could represent significant consequences for its electoral politics. Urban settings have long been seen as the primary locus of minority power and minority politics, however election outcomes in large states such as Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, and New York now also frequently hinge on the political decisions of their growing non-white communities. And given the size and importance of these states to the electoral college, minority voters are also salient to presidential candidates. We are in an era of electoral politics where minority voters will not only be increasingly more prevalent, but undoubtedly more consequential as well.

In spite of these growing numbers, political alliances are still essential for the full force of the minority vote to be felt at the ballot box. And yet notwithstanding the apparently rational incentives for minority coalition building, there is little evidence of formal or even informal coalitions between the nation's two largest minority groups, African-Americans and Latinos (Meier and Stewart 1991; Rich 1996). The focus of this article is on mass attitudes and the propensity of African-Americans and Latinos to build electoral alliances. The theoretical premise of this work is that perceived commonality between blacks and Latinos is integral to constructing political associations as the mass level. Recent public opinion data point to an asymmetry in the affinity that African-Americans and Latinos have for one another; blacks see much greater levels of intergroup commonality than do Latinos (Kaufmann 2003). Understanding the factors that lead to this asymmetry motivates this research. In essence, this article looks at two central questions: (1) What factors correspond to higher levels of Latino affinity for African-Americans? (2) How much future potential is there for Latino participation in minority oriented political alliances?


From a theoretical basis, the question of whether or not Latinos and African-Americans will join political forces has often been approached from the standpoint of shared interests versus intergroup competition (Meier and Stewart 1991;McClain and Karnig 1990; McClain and Tauber 1998; Kaufmann 2003). As many students of minority politics aptly suggest, Latinos and African-Americans share similar objective circumstances in the United States. Both are economically disadvantaged relative to whites; both experience substantial discrimination in housing, education, and employment; and both advocate for enlarging the social welfare state. In spite of these shared interests, competition over jobs, educational resources, housing, and political power often place blacks and Latinos in conflict against one another, and this conflict can act as a powerful barrier to political alliance (Garcia and de La Garza 1977; Henry 1980; Johnson and Oliver, 1989; Waldinger 1996; Borjas 1999). …


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