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Election 2004
Politics and Economy:
Election 2004
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Courting the Hispanic Vote

With all the election-year talk of NASCAR dads, there's another much larger group that is garnering headlines, projects and getting courted by both parties in earnest. It's the somewhat elusive "Hispanic vote." Take a look at these headlines from just the past few weeks: THE NEW YORK TIMES, "The Hispanic Vote A Vital Bloc, Realizing Its Power, Measures Its Suitors;" MIAMI HERALD, "Hispanic voters look for diverse message;" THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE, "Democrats adjust efforts to draw Hispanic vote."

Both the Republican and Democratic National Committees have programs, and Web sites dedicated to wooing Latino voters. Democratic candidates have been reaching out to Hispanic voters, especially in Arizona and New Mexico. The Bush reelection committee announced recently that it would be running Spanish-language ads from the outset of its advertising campaign.

The reason for all this concern and courting is that Hispanics — the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, numbering roughly 34.7 million people — could be a crucial factor in electing the next president. But is the Hispanic vote so easy to define and to win?

It's hard to imagine that a group that includes descendants of 16th century Spanish explorers and people whose native or ancestral countries range from Cuba to Puerto Rico to Guatemala and Mexico would vote as a monolith. A recent study found that a majority of Hispanics (54%) first identify themselves by the country of their or their ancestor's birth, secondarily as Hispanic or Latino. Still, the Pew Hispanic Center found in a 2002 study:

As a whole, the Hispanic population of the United States holds an array of attitudes, values and beliefs that are distinct from those of non-Hispanic whites and African Americans. Even Latinos who trace their ancestry in the United States back for several generations express views that distinguish them from the non-Hispanic native-born population.

But the very next sentence in the Pew study illustrates the problem with trying to craft a message that would deliver the Hispanic vote as a block: "However, there is no single, homogeneous Latino opinion..." Studies from the Pew Center and the Annenberg Center have found that, broadly speaking, Hispanic Americans tend to be more liberal on economic issues, and more conservative on social issues, even more so than most voters and more so than non-Hispanic Catholic voters. For example, eighty percent favor more federal spending on schools, 75 percent favor more spending to provide health coverage to the uninsured, while 37 percent favor a federal ban on abortion, and 58 percent favor school vouchers.

The study also found that most of those Latinos registered to vote; half identify as Democrats (49%), with one-fifth saying they are Republicans (20%) and another fifth identifying as Independents (19%). But the study, and other observers, have noted that party support among Hispanics is soft. With immigration ranking as one of the most important issues with registered Hispanic voters, the President's new immigration reform initiative may help the GOP with voters this election, as may a stress on conservative social issues.

The Latino Electorate, October 2002
Percentages of responding registered voters

Percentage who trust the government in DC "most of the time": Latinos, Whites, Blacks:  35%, 39%, 22%
Percentage who would pay more taxes for more services: Latinos, Whites, Blacks:  55%, 32%, 39%
Percentage saying the government can do the best job of providing services to the needy: Latinos, Whites, Blacks:  46%, 30%, 36%
Percentage who favor a guest worker proposal for limited-time work in the U.S.": Latinos, Whites, Blacks:  68%, 57%, 49%
Percentage who favor a proposal which would legaize many of the undomented workers currently in the U.S.: Latinos, Whites, Blacks:  85%, 66%, 67%
Most important issues for registered Latinos:  Education, Economy, Social Security

Kaiser Family Foundation and Pew Hispanic Center, "The Latino Electorate"

Among Latinos who are U.S. citizens and registered to vote, a considerable majority (72%) were either born outside the United States (41%) or have parents who were born outside the U.S. (31%). More than six in ten Latinos who plan to become U.S. citizens are not aligned with either Democrats or Republicans: 35% report that they are Independents; 10% say something else, and 18% say they do not know their party affiliation. According to the 2000 census only 35% of the Hispanic population is registered to vote.

Hispanic Voting Trends
Percentage of Hispanic population who reported voting

1974:  22.9%
1980  25.3%
1984:  32.7%
1988:  28.8%
1992:  28.9%
1996:  26.8%
2000:  27.5%

U.S. Department of the Census

Sources: The Pew Hispanic Center; The Annenberg Center; Kaiser Family Foundation and Pew Hispanic Center, "The Latino Electorate;" ONLINE NEWSHOUR, "Courting Hispanic Voters;" THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE MIAMI HERALD, Feb. 3, 2004; U.S. Department of the Census

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