Caribbean vot­ing in the US elec­tions

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Robert Bud­dan Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and robert.bud­dan@uwi­

CARIBBEAN-AMER­I­CAN CIT­I­ZENS will be vot­ing for the next Amer­i­can pres­i­dent a week from to­day. Many are al­ready do­ing so in early vot­ing. They want to make sure their vote is cast and to avoid pos­si­ble prob­lems on elec­tion day.

In 2012, they voted over­whelm­ingly for Barack Obama. Signs are that they will vote heav­ily for Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016. A sur­vey showed that 85 per cent had al­ready made up their minds.

About four mil­lion Amer­i­can im­mi­grants are from the Caribbean (al­though as many as 22 mil­lion might have Caribbean ances­try). Ninety per cent come from just five coun­tries: Cuba, the Do­mini­can Republic, Ja­maica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. Prob­a­bly one in 10 is an unau­tho­rised im­mi­grant. Don­ald Trump says il­le­gals are go­ing to be used to vote in rigged elec­tions. They should be warned that they can be de­ported if caught.

Nat­u­ralised Caribbean cit­i­zens make up 58 per cent of the to­tal who can vote. Nat­u­ralised Jamaicans make up 66 per cent, the largest group among them. Green-card hold­ers don’t have a vote in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and nei­ther do refugees and asylees, le­gal non-im­mi­grants (like those on stu­dent, work, or other tem­po­rary visas), and, of course, per­sons re­sid­ing in the coun­try without au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

Caribbean-Amer­i­can is­sues are mainly about eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and cit­i­zen­ship, refugee pol­icy, civil rights and race re­la­tions, so­cial se­cu­rity, af­ford­able ed­u­ca­tion, crime, jus­tice, and de­por­ta­tion. Many of their is­sues are lumped to­gether with those of African-Amer­i­cans, but some is­sues make them dis­tinct.


The Demo­cratic Party gets large sup­port from eth­nic mi­nori­ties like African-Amer­i­cans His­pan­ics, Asian-Amer­i­cans, and Caribbean-Amer­i­cans. How­ever, some who are el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship (and vot­ing rights) re­main green-card hold­ers, and younger cit­i­zens might not even reg­is­ter to vote. Yet, 70 per cent of nat­u­ralised Caribbean-Amer­i­cans are 18 years or over and are, there­fore, of vot­ing age.

Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal schol­ars spend a lot of time study­ing which groups iden­tify with which party but lit­tle to no po­lit­i­cal study of Caribbean Amer­i­cans ex­ists. This is a ripe area for uni­ver­sity re­search. We can only ex­trap­o­late from other known facts for now.

Caribbean-Amer­i­cans are at the mid­dle to lower ends of the in­come spec­trum. This seg­ment heav­ily sup­ports the Democrats. Hil­lary Clin­ton is strong on rais­ing the min­i­mum wage and grant­ing equal pay to women. The Demo­cratic Party is also the ‘party of di­ver­sity’, more tol­er­ant of im­mi­grants and more will­ing to find a path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Clin­ton prom­ises to do this, too. Green-card hold­ers may also qual­ify for So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care, and un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. Clin­ton has con­firmed sup­port for these pro­grammes. An­ti­im­mi­grant Repub­li­cans are not so sup­port­ive.

Clin­ton prom­ises fuller sup­port for small busi­ness and says her eco­nomic poli­cies will cre­ate mil­lions of new jobs. These would also help those who go up for tem­po­rary work. Clin­ton is wor­ried about po­lice killings and prom­ises to re­duce guns in cir­cu­la­tion. She com­plains that too many African-Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics end up in jail for mi­nor crimes, and there is need to end po­lice bias through bet­ter train­ing.


Trump says much less. He lately un­veiled a ‘New Deal for Black Amer­i­cans’ just last week. He would re­duce taxes on small (and large) busi­ness and says the in­ner ci­ties are danger­ous for African-Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics, so he would dis­arm gangs. (They, in turn, dis­like Trump be­cause of his ‘white supremacy’). Both can­di­dates in­tend to de­port vi­o­lent im­mi­grants. We must pre­pare to take in our crim­i­nal de­por­tees.

About 70 per cent of Caribbean Amer­i­cans live in New York (strongly Demo­cratic), and Florida, a key swing state with 40 per cent of Caribbean Amer­i­cans liv­ing there. Texas, a po­ten­tial swing state, has 70,000 Caribbean-Amer­i­cans. Caribbean-Amer­i­can vot­ing, there­fore, mat­ters.

The most ob­vi­ous im­pact is re­mit­tances, which are about US$11 bil­lion. This can grow if min­i­mum wages rise and small busi­nesses grow or de­cline if con­di­tions are ad­verse.

We should as­sess the post-elec­tion im­pact on the Caribbean pop­u­la­tions at the next Di­as­pora Con­fer­ence, who­ever wins, and ur­gently study Caribbean-Amer­i­can im­pact on party poli­cies and those im­pacts, in turn, on Caribbean-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions.

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