POLITICS

Impact of Hispanic Vote Likely in 2016 and Beyond

July 11, 2012, 4:52 a.m.

As the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion ap­proaches, no eth­nic group is more coveted than Lati­nos. But the real press for this po­ten­tial polit­ic­al force will likely take place in the next dec­ade, as the re­l­at­ively young Latino pop­u­la­tion ages in­to the elect­or­ate, a noted demo­graph­ic policy ana­lyst says.

“The dis­cus­sion of the Latino voter is the dis­cus­sion of the fu­ture of polit­ics, not about this [elec­tion] cycle,” Robert Suro, a pro­fess­or of journ­al­ism and pub­lic policy at the Uni­versity of South­ern Cali­for­nia, told a small as­sembly on Monday in Wash­ing­ton. “Where this cycle can have a big dif­fer­ence,” he said, is how it “casts tra­ject­or­ies in­to the fu­ture.”

Un­der­stand­ing the fu­ture im­pact of the grow­ing Latino elect­or­ate con­tin­ues to be of great in­terest to think tanks, ana­lysts, and the polit­ic­al parties. On Tues­day at the New Amer­ica Found­a­tion headquar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, Michele Salcedo, pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of His­pan­ic Journ­al­ists, mod­er­ated an event titled “2012 (Veinte Doce): The Latino Elec­tion?” Suro was on a lineup that also in­cluded Al­ex­an­dra Starr and Tamar Jac­oby, both New Amer­ica fel­lows fo­cused on im­mig­ra­tion is­sues, and polit­ic­al journ­al­ist Manuel Roig-Fran­zia, au­thor of The Marco Ru­bio Ef­fect.

Ac­cord­ing to the found­a­tion, an es­tim­ated 50,000 Lati­nos turn 18 each month. The white pop­u­la­tion, on the oth­er hand, has re­mained stag­nant in terms of size and pop­u­la­tion growth, Suro said.

In sev­en of the na­tion’s largest 15 cit­ies, people of col­or already make up the ma­jor­ity, ac­cord­ing to re­cent data from the U.S. census.

Part of the Latino growth, Suro said, is at­trib­uted to a high fer­til­ity rate and im­mig­ra­tion. But the num­bers don’t ne­ces­sar­ily trans­late in­to Novem­ber votes, in part, be­cause this group is re­l­at­ively young.

“School­chil­dren don’t vote. They only de­pend on voters,” Suro said. “A child takes 18 years to be­come a voter. There’s no way around that.”

About 58 per­cent of the Latino pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. is not eli­gible to vote, either be­cause they are too young or be­cause they are not U.S. cit­izens.

“On Elec­tion Day, they have no role to play,” Suro said, ad­dress­ing cur­rent demo­graph­ics. “They have no voice in our civic af­fairs.”

That’s not to down­play the po­ten­tial ef­fect of the Latino vote dur­ing this pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. In some battle­ground states, in­clud­ing Flor­ida, Col­or­ado, and Nevada, Lati­nos made up more than 10 per­cent of the voters in 2008.

In the “big” battle­ground states, in­clud­ing Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wis­con­sin, “there’s not a (sig­ni­fic­ant) Latino vote to speak of,” Suro said. Yet each is a state where a few hun­dred votes could make a dif­fer­ence in the out­come.

A scattered or un­der­mo­tiv­ated His­pan­ic elect­or­ate in those states “makes it dif­fi­cult way to run a large-scale polit­ic­al mo­bil­iz­a­tion,” he ex­plained.

The two-hour event gen­er­ated in­sights in­to oth­er is­sues rel­ev­ant to the His­pan­ic/Latino pop­u­la­tion. Among the high­lights:

  • No such thing as a co­hes­ive His­pan­ic vot­ing bloc. The vot­ing Latino pop­u­la­tion is di­verse in many states, par­tic­u­larly Flor­ida. The es­tab­lished Cuban pop­u­la­tion, new ar­rivals from Pu­erto Rico and New York, as well from South Amer­ica, en­sure an ex­tra level of com­plex­ity. Ad­dress­ing “a whole hodge­podge” presents chal­lenges for polit­ic­al strategists.
  • Win­ning by a whisker. In Col­or­ado and Nevada, where a few hun­dred votes can swing an elec­tion, the His­pan­ic vote is cru­cial. “You’re talk­ing about wheth­er a 4 or 5 per­cent shift of Latino vote in Col­or­ado will pro­duce a .2 per­cent or .3 per­cent dif­fer­ence in the total vote,” Suro said. “That might ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence.”
  • Walk­ing on a tightrope. There’s an ex­pect­a­tion that Latino politi­cians de­sire an open im­mig­ra­tion policy, Roig-Fran­zia said, but that is a bit too clear cut. Ru­bio, for ex­ample, favored the Ari­zona “show me your pa­per” law, op­poses in-state tu­ition for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rant stu­dents, and co­sponsored E-Veri­fy. At the same time, Ru­bio has ad­voc­ated his al­tern­at­ive Dream Act that would ap­peal to Latino voters and the GOP’s base. “He’s not just on a tightrope—he’s on a tightrope 100 stor­ies high,” Roig-Fran­zia said.
  • Elec­tion back­fire. Mak­ing im­mig­ra­tion a polit­ic­al wedge is­sue can po­ten­tially make it harder to find a solu­tion, Jac­oby said. You can’t pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form without Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, she said. Even when Demo­crats con­trolled both houses of Con­gress, no im­mig­ra­tion re­form passed. Re­pub­lic­ans are also split. “The trick with im­mig­ra­tion re­form is put­ting to­geth­er a pack­age that ap­peals to enough people from both parties to get across the fin­ish line.”
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