(Editor’s note: Orlando J. Rodriguez, author of “Vote Thieves” (see link at the bottom of the article), is a respected authority on socioeconomics and will be contributing columns on issues surrounding that topic for CTLatinoNews.com on an occasional basis.)
By Orlando J. Rodriguez
Special to CTLatinoNews.com
In about 17 years, just around the year 2030, 1 in every 5 Connecticut residents will claim Latino ancestry. That is, if the current population trends continue which of course Latinos are excitedly looking forward to because they assume this population growth will translate into more influence in Connecticut’s political dealings. Tal vez (maybe). I wonder because Latinos are a complex demographic and already interesting peculiarities and trends in our state’s Latino population growth could put a big dent in the group’s political aspirations.
We need only look at the fastest growing group of Latinos in Connecticut to begin to understand why the Latino clout of the future might not be automatic. Currently, the fastest growing groups of Latinos in Connecticut are from Guatemala and Honduras – not from Puerto Rico.
In fact, in the last decade, two-thirds of the growth in the Latino population in Connecticut came from some place other than Puerto Rico. A significant factor, because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth and can influence politics by voting, but these other new Latinos may not be eligible voters (not citizens) even though they are legal residents. So the first glitch in Latinos’ political aspirations is that Connecticut may be adding two non-voting Latinos for each one who can vote. In 2000, 16 percent of Latinos in Connecticut were non-citizens. It has since risen to 18 percent.
Another obstacle to Latino political hopes of the future is that nearly 1 in every 3 adult Latinos in Connecticut has not completed high school. Research indicates that people with less education are much less likely to vote. In 2010 in Connecticut, only 1 in every 4 eligible Latinos voted, compared to more than half of whites. Latinos have to deliver consistently a dependable and sizable voting bloc in Connecticut and low levels of education stand in the way.
An aging population may also hinder Latino voter turnout in the future. As we know, older people are more likely to vote than younger populations and population trends tell us already that older Latinos may leave Connecticut. In the 1990s, for Latinos age 60 and over, more left the state than moved in. As a result, an increase in voting among a growing young Latino population may produce less than expected results because their voting parents left Connecticut.
Regardless of how much gana (desire) Latinos have to increase their political voice in Connecticut, wishful thinking is not enough and some realities will be difficult to overcome. Extending voting rights to foreign-born Latinos is a federal issue and the state’s congressional representatives have only five votes out of 435 in the House of Representatives. Because Connecticut has relatively little influence on federal issues, spending time and money on immigration issues would not get Latinos much bang for the buck. Can older Latinos be convinced to stay in Connecticut? Given a choice of sipping mojitos on a warm beach or shoveling snow in Connecticut, why pick Connecticut?
How can Latino leaders best prepare for a complex demographic future? The focus must be on increasing overall voter participation among as many Latinos as possible regardless of whether the population grows or not. This alone will increase voter numbers significantly offsetting the loss from demographic shifts. Education is the other great equalizer that will balance out the projected Latino voter loss. It is a certainty that people with more education are more likely to vote than those with less education. Therefore, number one, number two, and number three on the “to do” list for Latinos must be to increase educational attainment among young Latinos. Without a doubt, this will increase the number of Latino voters resulting in the greater political power many envision.
Similar to marketers, researchers and others who base long-term business plans on detailed demographic information, the state’s Latino leadership must use this vital demographic information to plan for the future. If they do not, and instead use the sit and wait tactic assuming population growth alone is the ticket to political power, then Latinos should not be surprised when the hoped for gains in political influence slip through their fingers.
(The views expressed by Orlando J. Rodriguez are his alone and not those of any organization. Rodriquez is the author of Vote Thieves.)