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Robert Buddan | Caribbean voting in the US elections

Published:Monday | October 31, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Robert Buddan

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 over-whelmingly 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. Anti-immigrant 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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