Understanding the value of the Latino electorate seems to be a tricky proposition these days. According to the New York Times there are going to be approximately 21 million Latinos who will be eligible to vote this November, but just over 10 million Latinos are even registered to vote. Less than that number will vote. If you compare those figures to whites and blacks, Latinos are way behind (66% of eligible whites voted and 65% of eligible blacks voted in 2008).
I’m sure some of it has to do with the fact that determining what is a Latino turnout or a Latino vote is complex, at best. I am an immigrant of Honduras who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, just in time for me to vote for that election. I’m classified as Latino and am bilingual, but my dominant language is clearly English. My neighbor sharing my backyard fence is a retired GM worker. He speaks Spanish and is of Mexican heritage. My neighbor around the corner is the chair of the Chicano Latino Studies department at Michigan State University. She’ll be the first one to tell you her lack of Spanish speaking ability makes her as much of a Chicana as does the migrant farming lifestyle of many Michigan Chicanos.
We’re widely differentiated in terms of language, geographic origin, interests, and education. And yet political parties and corporations still look at us from a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all marketing perspective.
Other minority groups have certainly struggled with voting figures, but in the case of blacks it was as a result of legal barriers. The 1950s was still the era of Jim Crowe and a repressive southern strategy that kept 75% of blacks from the South from even registering. Civil Rights initiatives helped lead to 58% voter turnout in 1964 and the numbers have climbed steadily.
There’s no blatant attempt to suppress voter registration in states with respect to Latinos. But we certainly know there is an air of hostility in some states (cough, cough, Arizona) and other states that have oppressive voter ID laws that impact people of all races (in theory) but more disparately affect minorities and the elderly.
I bet a bigger factor is the fact that Obama’s policies on immigration (especially deportation) have not really carried much favor with Latino communities that have strong connections with non-citizens. Do I care how my fellow Latinos are treated who are here illegally? Hell yes I do, as a matter of human rights. Am I disappointed by the Obama administration? Undoubtedly. Maybe some are disturbed enough that they feel registering to vote is an exercise in futility.
Then you have Mitt Romneybot who in trying to prove he was severely conservative agreed with guys on a lot of immigration positions that really, really, really don’t sit well with Latinos. Double that on issues of health insurance and how to insure the uninsured (read that as how to keep my loved ones from dying). So with neither party really proving platforms that make Latinos feel desired, can you blame them for not rushing out to the polls?
Nationally, we don’t make up a plurality of potential voters yet, but in states that are battleground states for the presidency and Congress, the potential for capturing an increase in Latino voters should be energizing both parties to put forth an agenda that does…. something… anything, to show a little interest.
I guess it’s a matter of wait and see – perhaps the conventions will bring a change of direction. I’m not holding my breath.