The Myth of the Latino Vote

Pundits have touted the power of the “Latino vote” for years. Politicians have pandered so blatantly to the demographic that the term “hispandering” is now common parlance.

But there’s a big problem. As Gabriel Arana, a senior editor at The American Prospect, wrote recently in a piece entitled The Mythical Monolith, “Most Latinos who are eligible to vote still don’t.”

Only 59 percent of eligible Latinos are even registered and only 48 percent went to the polls, he noted.

Why?

Arana laid out a few reasons Hispanics are less likely than other demographics to head for the polls in an election during an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez.

1. Immigration reform isn’t the unifier people perceive it to be

“Immigration does not have the same power that slavery or persistent discrimination against African-Americans have had,” he said.

Arana isn’t trying to dilute the power of immigration reform, though. It’s still a key issue with the power to sway voters.

2. Latinos are young

Latinos are younger than the population at large, Arana pointed out. The median age of Latinos born in the United States is 18, just old enough to cast a ballot. And young people are “notoriously apathetic,” Arana noted.

3. Most live in solidly red or solidly blue states

He points out that most Latino-heavy states go blue with relative certainty, meaning people feel their vote won’t have an impact. Latinos who live in California may not vote because they know their state will swing Democrat, Arana noted. Why spend the time casting a ballot if you don’t think it will make a difference? He said voting is higher in Florida because it’s a swing state that garners significant election coverage. Voters there, Latinos included, feel their ballots have more of an impact.

What’s next?

If Latinos believed that they could have an impact, Arana said, they could create a real shift.

“In Texas, Latinos turning out at high rates could totally revolutionize state politics and national politics,” he said. He noted in his article that Latinos also hold the power to keep Florida blue and to add progressive votes where white working-class voters have turned to Republicans as manufacturing goes abroad.

But time is passing and that’s critical.

As Latinos reach third-generation status in the United States, he wrote, and as immigrants become more affluent, they are less likely to identify as Latino, meaning “[i]n the long run, there will simply be no Latino vote as we currently, and sometimes fancifully, imagine it.”