By Linda Tishler Levinson
With the number of Latinos registered to vote on the rise and with tight races both in Connecticut and nationally, the question for the candidates has become how to attract Latinos and get them out to vote.
Nationally, voter turnout among Latinos historically has been lower than that of the general population. According to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, 77 percent of Latino registered voters said they were “absolutely certain” they will vote this year, while 89 percent of all registered voters said the same in a separate Pew Research Center survey.
In Connecticut, half of the 176,000 voters listed as Hispanic by the Secretary of State’s office do vote. That number of voters is probably higher because the list is based on Latino surnames, so many Latino voters are not counted. Using this list as it is the only official record of voters, in comparison, in 2008, 66 percent of eligible voters in Connecticut cast ballots. In 2010, 22.7 percent of Latinos in Connecticut voted, compared to 50.7 percent of whites, 22.2 percent of Asians and 36.7 percent of blacks.
Angel Fernandez-Chavero, managing director and founder of Aspire Praxis in New Haven, said candidates must reach out to the Latino community. However, he said, the way candidates do so is key. “Engage us the same way you should engage any voter bloc: with respect,” he said.
To do so, Fernandez-Chavero said candidates must recognize the diversity within the Latino community. “Paradoxically, it means that, even as we share the same concerns as everyone else, make sure you know us in detail, so to speak. Just like you know that there isn’t one profile for women but many: soccer mom, hockey mom, Wal-Mart mom and so on; the same holds for us. Know our different countries of origin, that we just arrived or have been here for generations, that we are laborers and professionals, and so on. Don’t make the mistake of putting your outreach to Latinos in a campaign silo. Smart campaigns don’t do that with any group. You wouldn’t do that with women, would you?” he said.
He also said that Latinos need to be included in the campaigns themselves. “At the same time, just like you would with women, make sure you have representatives who come from our community. They will be critical to sealing the deal. Above all, don’t ever consider us an afterthought. We’ll notice,” he said.
“There’s no question Latino voters will be a factor,” Matt Barreto, founder of the national polling firm Latino Decisions and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in an article published by ctmirror.org. “People are just beginning to realize the significance of (Connecticut ‘s) Latino electorate.”
He noted that the DREAM Act is a mobilizing issue among Latino voters and that opposition to the act could hurt many Republican candidates, including GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In contrast, support of the DREAM act may help President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
He said Obama’s popularity among Hispanics rose after he announced last summer that he would temporarily stop deportations of undocumented youths to give Congress time to approve the DREAM Act.
The solution, according to Julio Morales, a professor emeritus of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, is to increase the number of Latino candidates and for all candidates to do a better job connecting with Latino voters. “They tend to vote for people that they know, that they’re connected to,” Morales said.
He said few candidates actively campaign in the Latino community and that this may alienate voters. In addition, he said, they see a lack of support for immigrant issues among some candidates, particularly among those from Western states. Morales added that candidates need to recognize that they are more likely to lose an election without support from Latino voters.
State Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport, who is running for state Senate in the 23rd District, agrees with Morales’ conclusions. “In some cases, they don’t have candidates they can associate with,” Ayala said.
When given a candidate they can identify with, he said, Latinos will come out and vote. He noted that he is Puerto Rican, and that Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly vote on the island. He said Latinos need to know that candidates care about them and will fight for their rights.
In some cases, he said, language may be an obstacle, since this could limit a voter’s ability to know what the candidates stand for if their views are only available in English or in a poor Spanish translation.
Still, he said, the parties need to attract good quality candidates and reach out to the Latino community. “The fact is that our population continues to grow,” Ayala said.
Lisa Garcia Bedolla, chair of the University of California at Berkeley ‘s Center for Latino Policy Research and associate professor of social and cultural studies, said that politicians who reach out to Latino voters with a sophisticated organization that shows respect for them are more likely to bring voters to the polls.
“We found that organizations that were able to explain to Latino voters how their vote would lead to concrete political change were best able to turn those voters out,” she wrote in a commentary for the National Institute for Latino Policy. “Latino voters are sophisticated enough to require that Latino outreach be more than having a mariachi band at a rally. The substance of that outreach needs to be as meaningful as the language in which it is provided. Both political parties will do well to remember that fact,” she wrote.
Photo (c) Mr. Speed via Flickr
By Linda Tishler Levinson