Latino Vote a Sleeping Giant
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 11:10
Many pundits in the national media have emphasized how important the Latino vote will be in deciding this year’s election — Latinos are, after all, the fastest growing minority in the country. In order to examine the impact of the Latino vote, one must look at demographic statistics, individual interests and our electoral system.
With the election only about a month away, President Obama leads significantly within the Latino population, boasting 65 percent in his corner compared to 26 percent for Mitt Romney. In the 2008 presidential election, although 67 percent of Latinos who voted went for Obama while 31 percent voted for John McCain, Latinos only consisted of 9 percent of the electorate. In the 2010 midterm elections, the percentage was even smaller: Latinos accounted for only 7 percent of the total number of participating voters.
The reason why the total Latino representation of the electorate is small is due to youth and non-citizens. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Latinos account for about 16 percent of the population. Yet many of them are under the age of 18, and many adult Latinos are not U.S. citizens. An even larger share of Latinos are under 30, a group which generally participates less in elections than older voters. If any of the candidates want to win an election, he will need to focus heavily on young Latino voters, who will participate more in elections more as time progresses.
Contrary to what some have suggested, the Latino community does not vote as a unified group. Although the majority of Latinos are Mexican American, other nationalities do not share the same interests. Not everyone in the Latino community has immigration reform as his top priority. Cuban Americans, who arrived in this country due to a special policy, and Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, see immigration only as a symbolic issue because they don’t have to go through the nuances of entering the United States. Assimilation is another component that divides the vote. We live in a globalized society that allows us to keep in touch with our roots, yet second- and third-generation U.S. citizens view issues differently than their first-generation relatives and will identify more with the United States than their ancestral homeland.
The only value that seems to unite all Latinos is family. Most Latinos will likely state that the economy is currently their top priority, since most families have felt the pinch directly.
Our electoral system places great emphasis on swing states. California and Texas have the largest Latino populations, yet the latter is reliably Democratic and the former Republican. The only states with a sizable Latino population whose vote can make a difference this year are Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Targeting Latinos in those states and getting them out to vote may decide who wins this year’s election.
That said, congressional elections have greater sway in bringing about change than the presidency. If the Latino community wants results, it must focus more on the members of Congress elected to enact policies rather than the executive who directs them. In the year 2050, the Latino percentage of the U.S. population is projected to be around be 25 percent. Maybe then, the sleeping giant will awaken to influence the tide of politics in this country.
Alejandro Zendejas is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.