THE LATINO VOTE
In 2010, Latinos accounted for 16.3 percent of the United States population, but only 6.9 percent of voters who turned out for the midterm elections. Of the 21.3 million Latinos eligible to cast a ballot, less than a third—only 6.6 million—went to the polls. INSIGHT asked Dr. Rivera to discuss issues that impact voter turnout in the Latino population.
INSIGHT: Are there issues that divide Latino voters?
Rivera: A Pew Hispanic Center report raises the question: is the Obama administration deporting more illegal immigrants than the Bush administration did? We could safely say that 41 percent of all Latinos polled for this say that Obama is in fact deporting more…while 10 percent say Obama is deporting fewer. But if you look at native-born Latinos—those born in this country—and compare their responses to those born in countries of origin, it’s even more different. For example, 55 percent believe Obama is in fact deporting more immigrants, whereas only 25 percent of those born in the U.S. believe that he is. And that’s reflected in voting behavior.
“It’s more about daily hassles, needing to work to support a family.”
INSIGHT: What issues motivate Latinos to vote?
Rivera: In my experience, it isn’t immigration that motivates people to go out to the polls. It’s things like education, jobs, health care—those are the issues that are essential for Latinos. People think, oh it’s immigration that’s the big thing, but it’s not, it’s really not. Right now with this economy, it’s jobs, it’s also health care. And it’s no different from the rest of the population. But there is also something interesting going on—it is the history of the population and the fact that it is so diverse. If political campaigns focused on those differences, or at least showed an understanding that there are differences, I think more Latinos would vote because it would seem that their voices are heard. I’ll give you an example. If you were to ask a group of Hispanics, “How do you identify?,” 90 percent would say they identify with whatever their country of origin is. They would say “I’m Cuban,” “I’m from Guatemala,” “I’m from Honduras.” What does that tell us? It tells us the population is not homogenous. I often think the campaigns dismiss that heterogeneity and that I think is harmful. It affects the motivation to vote, because no politician is identifying with the history of each of those individuals. And if you were to look at who goes out to vote, the Cubans are at the top of the list.
INSIGHT: Why is that?
Rivera: The voter turnout is very high—almost 50 percent of Cubans will vote. If you look at their profile, they come from a higher socioeconomic background, higher education, and that very much reflects the overall population [of voters]. One of the most important characteristics of Latinos who vote is that they tend to be college educated; they tend to be older, they arrived in this country before 1990. So what’s all that about? If you’re going to target any voter in a campaign, it should be targeted at college-educated individuals. How do you then court other Latinos from other countries of origin to go and vote? I think that’s missing in most political campaigns.
INSIGHT: So what can we do to get more Latinos out to vote?
Rivera: We know that the majority of Latinos are not college educated, and what they’re concerned about is working—there’s a strong work ethic—and taking care of their family. The other demographic variable that often interferes with all this is the language barrier. There is a growing population of bilingual individuals and a larger growing population of monolingual English speakers, but by and large they tend to be Spanish dominant. I don’t think they feel their voices are being heard.
INSIGHT: The Obama campaign is starting to run more Spanish language ads, especially in states with large Latino populations. Do you think that will make a difference?
Rivera: I think it will. But sometimes the issues aren’t very clearly presented. They have to be at a level that is understandable and that reaches home. I’ll give you an example. One of the major concerns is the discrimination that the population faces, especially now with Arizona passing this immigration law. The level of discrimination happens on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be blatant, but it happens every day. And what campaign is addressing that, or even acknowledging that it is happening? I don’t think any campaign is. Think about this: it’s more about daily hassles, needing to work to support a family. Those are the issues that are important. Finding quality education for my children. There needs to be a concerted effort to address those things. Like the DREAM Act—that’s a classic example. Politicians, the powers that be, are on the fence about the DREAM Act. My goodness, that’s central, that’s access to education. Now there’s so much push-back on that. Do you think I would be motivated to go out and vote for someone who doesn’t support that?