The voting patterns, interests, and behavior of Latino voters - who now constitute 7% of the American electorate - have the potential to influence the future of American politics significantly, according to a new analysis. The report was released by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) at its Annual Conference which is being held at the Miami Beach Convention Center from July 20 to 24.
Hispanic voters have become a leading target of elected officials and policy makers of both political parties in recent years, but the report suggests that the focus has been largely superficial. "Latino voters care about substance, not just about style. Speaking Spanish at campaign stops, advertising in the Spanish media, and other sorts of 'piñata politics' can help to get the attention of Latino voters, but it's not enough. Politicians and parties must understand that their
outreach efforts cannot be considered serious unless they are equally serious about addressing the issues that Hispanics truly care about," said NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre.
According to polls and reports that NCLR reviewed, education, the economy, health care, immigration, civil rights, and foreign policy matters top the list of Latino public policy concerns. Indeed, as the report shows, in order to appeal to Latino voters, candidates and public officials need to go beyond delivering speeches in Spanish and communicate substantive agendas that will benefit and not harm the Hispanic community, or the nation. As Yzaguirre noted, "Latinos are very concerned about issues that affect their community and the nation as a whole. Their priorities do not necessarily differ from those of their fellow Americans, but candidates and policy-makers need to understand that Latino voters are also interested in, and officials need to communicate, how these issues affect Latino families," suggested Yzaguirre.
Moreover, research suggests that Latino voters are not swayed by party affiliation as much as by positions and track record. "Recent election results show that Latinos will cross party lines if candidates are genuine in responding to the issues that affect Hispanic families and the nation as a whole."
The report's analysis of data on Latino voter registration and turnout shows that Latinos are actively engaged in the political process - over 5.7 million Latinos participated in the 2000 presidential election, with close to 79% of Hispanic registered voters going to the polls. NCLR's analysis also indicates that, with serious investments and a sustained effort, Latino voting power can be multiplied. The report suggests a likely increase of 1.9 million Latino voters in 2004. "If registration and turnout gaps could be reduced between Latinos and other voters, the potential for increases in Hispanic voter turnout is staggering," Yzaguirre indicated.
Specifically, tapping the power of the Latino vote requires strategic investments to appeal to current voters and reach potential segments of this growing share of the American electorate. These include:
-- Additional investments in research and polling about the various components of the Latino electorate, including the perspectives of native-born and naturalized voters; those whose first language is English or Spanish; those who are young; new voters; and long-time voters.
-- Targeted efforts by candidates, strategists, philanthropists, Latino organizations, and others to understand how to motivate segments of the population that do not vote.
"Our nation's ability to expand the Hispanic electorate to keep up with the community's growth is an important indicator of the health of the American democracy. The strength of our country lies in its principle of government by the people, and we must do all that we can to ensure that this reflects all Americans - including the one in eight Americans of Hispanic origin."
For more information at http://www.nclr.org