Analysis: Latino voters sway with language
UPI Deputy Americas Editor
Washington, DC, Apr. 19 (UPI) -- A study released Monday suggests
Hispanic voters aren't swayed by traditional campaign outreach efforts,
a finding that may have significant implications for how Sen. John Kerry
and President Bush market themselves to the country's largest minority
Like several minority groups, Hispanics have long been associated
with the Democratic Party. Latinos fall somewhere between white and
African-American voters in terms of the percentage of the population
that identifies itself as a Democrat, according to a 2002 study by the
nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.
That same study also found that while Democratic
identification among Hispanics is broad, it is also shallow and included
opinions on several key issues that defy normal party platforms.
The Pew Hispanic Center's survey released Monday further underscored
this point, with findings that Latinos also are stratified according to
whether they are foreign-born or native and whether they get their news
through English-language or Spanish media.
The latest study, examining media habits among the United States' 35
million Hispanic inhabitants, said the Latino population can be divided
into three segments -- those who get their news from English-language
sources, those who get their news from Spanish-language media, and those
who switch between the two.
Most significant for the president and his likely Democratic
contender, the senator from Massachusetts, the majority of likely
Hispanic voters who responded to the poll get their news entirely from
English-language media. Forty percent get news from both languages,
while 6 percent of likely voters get all their news in Spanish.
Sixty-one percent of this group watches television network news shows
only in English, while 28 percent watch news programs in both languages
and 11 percent only in Spanish.
This means, the study reported, that the popular practice of airing
political advertising on national Spanish-language news shows reaches,
at best, 39 percent of the likely Hispanic voters, calling into question
the efficacy of that practice in reaching this significant community.
The segment of respondents who said they used all English-language
media outlets -- 31 percent of those polled -- were better educated and
made more money. The vast majority -- nearly eight out of 10 -- was born
in the United States and 44 percent made more than $50,000 a year. By
comparison, 96 percent of those who only used Spanish-language media
sources were foreign born and 65 percent made less than $30,000 a year.
The study's findings are based on a nationwide telephone survey of
1,316 Latinos conducted Feb. 11 to March 11. The survey had a margin of
error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Pew Hispanic Center Director Roberto Suro told United Press
International he had not yet analyzed the survey's findings to
extrapolate what they mean for likely Hispanic voting behavior in the
2004 presidential election.
"If I recall, for the most part the demographic characteristics you
see in the general population hold for the Hispanics as well," Suro
said, but added that the one "wrinkle" in the trend was that a lot of
recently naturalized immigrants voted in the late '90s and in the 2000
Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation for the
nonpartisan League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed that newly
naturalized immigrants are more likely to vote, but pointed to other raw
data that is perhaps more significant.
"Let's look at the numbers -- 8 million registered, 8 million
eligible to register. Why aren't they registering?" she asked.
Thirty-five percent of the Hispanic population is between the ages of
18 and 25, an age bracket typically uninterested in both voting and
policy issues, Lemus said. Also, a large proportion of the population
has dropped out of school. "The less education you have, the less likely
you are to vote, and that may trend with the media findings as well,"
she said. Finally, many Hispanics were embarrassed to vote because they
had never done so and didn't know how.
The fact that Hispanics are the largest population minority group in
the United States also is misleading once data is examined.
U.S. Census data show that 27.5 percent of voting-age Hispanics in
the United States took part in the 2000 election, far below the averages
for other ethnic groups.
One reason for this is that nearly four out of 10 of Latinos age 18
and above are not U.S. citizens, and thus cannot vote. Among whites this
percentage is 2.2 percent, while 5.7 percent of voting-age blacks in the
United States are not citizens.
Of the 202.6 million voting-age people living in the United States in
2000, 21.5 million were of Hispanic origin. Of those, 13 million were
citizens, 7.5 million were registered, and 5.9 million actually voted.
This left Hispanics with the lowest percentage of registered voters
actually casting a ballot in the 2000 presidential election, behind
whites, blacks and Asians and Pacific islanders. Nationwide, 85.5
percent of registered voters participated in the 2000 election, while
78.6 percent of Hispanics did.
These statistics would point to candidates' need to pursue Hispanic
voters on two tracks -- first, by addressing the policy issues important
to them, but more importantly by getting them registered to vote.
Voter registration drives have become a major part of the 2004
election to deal with this exact problem. Nonprofit organizations,
including one Lemus is working to get off the ground, are working
feverishly to register voters. These organizations have to register
voters for both sides, but by using demographic information they are
able to handicap their effort by going after groups who historically
have leaned to either side of the political divide.
Lemus added that it is important to respond to the policy questions
Hispanics have, which are largely mainstream American issues: education,
healthcare and the economy. Many Hispanics registering for the first
time label themselves independents, Lemus said. "They really are
curious, they want to be brought into it, they want someone to fight
over them," which either candidate has yet to do.
The president, a former Texas governor who promised to work hard with
Mexican President Vicente Fox to deal with the issue of illegal
immigrants, made little headway on the issue beyond his campaign
promises. This may come to haunt him in November, Lemus said.
On the other hand, Kerry has yet to define himself with Hispanic
voters, Lemus said. "A lot of people are undecided. They're waiting to
see from Kerry what he's going to do and what his plan is and what the
strategy is," she said. The deciding factor, she later added, will be
"what Kerry comes out with on education, healthcare and the economy."
"Bush is a known entity. Now they're going to have to figure out ...
do you change your horse in mid-stream?"
2004 United Press International