by Orlando J. Rodriguez
There is much talk about how the booming Latino population will influence politics as reported in The Washington Post, National Journal, and Huffington Post. These reports make the same unsubstantiated assumption: that the growing Latino population will result in corresponding large numbers of new Latino voters. But the just-released study, Latino Electorate in 2010: More Voters, More Non-Voters, from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latinos do not act when given the opportunity. The report, authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, is a gold mine of information that I plan to revisit in greater detail in upcoming posts. For now, let’s focus on the overall message – Latinos don’t vote. We shoot blanks!
From 1990 to 2010, the number of eligible Latino voters (citizens age 18+) grew by 13.2 million. However, the number of actual Latino voters grew by only 3.7 million. It gets worse. Voter turnout rates for Latinos have declined since 1990. In the 2010 elections, Latinos let 14.7 million votes go unused. Reasons given for not voting include being too busy, not being interested, or simply forgetting to vote. Such excuses might seem unbelievable to Latinos who were denied the vote before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965
To be fair, these trends are not representative of all voting-eligible Latinos. Nearly half of Cubans and older Latinos (age 65+) vote, which is comparable to rates among whites. However, less than one-third of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and young Latinos voted in 2010. It is not a coincidence that there are four Cuban-Americans in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. Cubans are arguably the most over?represented ethnic group in Congress. Voting gets results.
Lopez’ report is a wake-up call to Latinos who assume a simple growth in numbers alone will influence politicos. The report provides a guide on where to focus efforts to dramatically increase voter participation among Latinos. Or, if nothing is done, a future generation will cite the report as the explanation for why Latinos did not achieve the political influence they should have wielded. Latinos should heed the words of Professors Garcia and Sanchez in Hispanics and the U.S. Political System: Moving into the Mainstream: “If an individual or group does not vote, or votes at very low rates, their input into the behavior of public officials will be minimized.”
In 1984, professors Welch and Hibbing wrote, “in the U.S. House, Hispanics do not lack influence, they just lack the influence their numbers warrant.” In 2011, the situation remains the same. The number of Latino voters is growing, but it is just as important that Latinos recognize that the number of actual voters is less than one-third of potential voters. Latinos throw away the majority of their votes. The future is ours to lose.
Welch, Susan, and John R. Hibbing. “Hispanic Representation in the U.S. Congress.” Social Science Quarterly 65 (1984): 334.
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