In today’s world, a person in the United States can buy a German car that was built in Mexico using a website that is hosted in Canada. We can conduct video conferences with business clients in London, while using our American computer that was assembled in China using parts from South Korea and Israel. Today’s world is more integrated and connected than ever before in human history, and the process of globalization has created many economic, cultural and technological benefits. These are the benefits that many people focus on when it comes to the topic of globalization.
However, globalization is also changing the way politicians campaign and govern. There have been a few articles published recently which address this topic in varying degrees, and derive different conclusions based on their determination of what foreign policy and globalizations means. Sarah Kreps wrote in The Hill that foreign policy does not play a major role in determining the outcomes of elections. However, this is based on the assumption that Congress plays a minor role in foreign policy. More recently, Michael Barbaro from the NYTimes wrote that Republican candidates are adjusting their approaches to reach Latino voters by highlighting their positions and engagement on policies related to Latin America. Barbaro’s article contrasts that Kreps by suggesting that Congress role in dealing with policies relating to Latin Americas is posing electoral challenges to those candidates considering national campaigns.
So does foreign policy play a major role in US elections or not? I think that it depends on your view of what is foreign policy, specifically as it relates to Latin America, and why globalization has changed that perception. Several years ago when I was in DC, I launched a project called the Latin American Policy Initiative. The purpose of the project was to change the dialogue on conversations and policies between the United States and the various countries in Latin America. It was based on a premise that we could no longer view the interactions of the United States government towards its partners in Latin America simply as foreign policy. Those interactions now carried direct domestic policy and political consequences. It was a radical shift in thinking for Washington insiders, yet something so obvious to those involved in the project.
With the large numbers and concentrations of people from other countries (or people who have ties to other countries) living in the United States, politicians are being more careful with how they approach what has typically been regarded only as foreign policy on the campaign trail. It is no secret, that for the past several decades politicians hoping to win the state of Florida towed the line of the Cuban American National Foundation on foreign policy towards Cuba. Politicians in New York have avoided engaging on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood for fear of losing a large share of the vote in Puerto Rico.
Take for example the instability that is still occurring in Venezeula. There are large concentrations of Venezuelans in Texas and Florida. These are important states that both major parties view as critical to their ability to win national elections. If politicians in these states do not prepare themselves to engage on this issue, they could be handing over a large block of voters to the opposing party for generations much like the Democrats did with their handling of the Cuban crisis.
More recently, the nation has turned its attention to the humanitarian crisis happening at the border in which tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are crossing the border illegally to flee the violence and instability in their own countries in Central America. How politicians choose to address this issue will shape the attitudes of Central American voters for many years.
Media outlets and political parties have grown more aware of the growing influence of the Latino electorate in the United States, and they have also learned about the importance of immigration debate to these voters. For some reason, many of them have not connected the dots that these voters have concerns for people from their home (home by birth or by heritage) countries and that our policies toward those countries are going to influence their political decisions. Every study has shown that Latino voters who are naturalized citizens vote at higher rates than those who are native born. It would be wise for politicians to learn how to do more than simply shout “si se puede” when engaging Latino voters so that they don’t catch themselves saying “no entiendo” at the end of the campaign.