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National Research Council (US) Panel on Hispanics in the United States; Tienda M, Mitchell F, editors. Hispanics and the Future of America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006.

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Hispanics and the Future of America.

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11Latino Civic and Political Participation

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With each passing election, claims of potential Latino1 political influence increase and efforts to harness that influence grow. In the 2000 presidential race, for example, both parties made substantive and symbolic outreach to Latinos; each built their potentially winning set of states in the Electoral College on expectations for Latino turnout in specific states. The presumption of these activities is the existence of a “Latino vote” or, more generally a “Latino politics” that can be organized to express a Latino voice in political outcomes. This chapter analyzes the phenomenon of Latino politics with three guiding questions. First, I consider the validity of a Latino politics in the singular that has greater predictive value than the politics of the specific Latino national-origin groups. Here, I define politics broadly to include community-based civic activities, both in the United States and abroad; electoral politics; agenda setting and influence; and representation, with the recognition that the existing scholarship disproportionately focuses on electoral politics. Second, I examine electoral and nonelectoral politics to assess how Latino politics manifests itself and the institutional and demographic barriers that prevent Latinos from meeting the sometimes unrealistic levels of influence expected of them. Finally, I assess possible trajectories for the Latino politics of the next two decades, arguing that this future Latino politics is highly uncertain and is itself under construction.

As a prelude to this analysis, I identify a cleavage that appears throughout this discussion. In all politics and certainly in Latino politics as well, mass and elite interests can diverge. Around the questions of the reality of a Latino politics, Latino mass and elite interests diverge considerably, though arguably this division is narrowing.

Over the past 20 years, Hispanic elites, particularly non-Cuban Hispanic elites, have organized primarily as Hispanics and not around their national-origin identities. While recognizing differences based on national origins and regions, these Hispanic elites have seen instrumental advantages in organizing to speak primarily with a pan-ethnic voice. Although there has been little scholarly analysis of Latino elite ethnic identification (Farkas et al., 1998; Márquez, 2003, particularly Chapter 6; O'Connor and Epstein, 1988), the organizational structure of the major Latino policy research organizations demonstrates this trend clearly. Each of the major Hispanic organizations—the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI),2 and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as examples—has a board of directors that reflects the diversity of the Latino community and focuses their energies on issues that unite Latino communities. The exception to this pattern of elite organizing around a pan-ethnic frame is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which has focused its energies entirely on Cuba and the needs of Cuban Americans and has not sought to build bridges to other Latino groups.

At the mass level, the primary ethnic identities of Hispanics remain focused on their national origins (see Chapter 1; de la Garza, DeSipio, García, García, and Falcón, 1992; Oboler, 1995; Suro, 2002). While these patterns diminish somewhat among immigrants with longer periods of U.S. residence and over successive generations, national origin remains the primary personal identity for the majority of Latinos. This pattern is even more remarkable considering the elite efforts to frame a Latino/Hispanic identity and a national Latino politics over the past 25 years. Certainly, most Latinos include the pan-ethnic identities among their package of identities, but when asked to focus on the one that first comes to mind, nation of origin or ancestry is most often mentioned by the majority.

Recognizing this ambivalence about pan-ethnicity at the mass level establishes an important first step to the discussion of Latino politics. While the majority population and Latino elites may speak of a Latino political community or a Latino vote, its existence may in fact be more of a wish than a reality, at least to the degree that it is recognized by those who provide that vote or make up that community.

THE FOUNDATIONS OF A U.S. LATINO POLITICS: SHARED EXPERIENCE AND COMMON INTERESTS

Scholarly study of Latino civic and electoral participation, Latino political attitudes, and the political dimensions of naturalization is a relatively new phenomenon. Although there are a few political studies from as early as the 1920s and 1930s, most of the available scholarship postdates the extension of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to Hispanic communities in 1975. This early period in Latino political history is nevertheless important for understanding their contemporary political experience. Although largely unrecognized at the time, several formative political experiences laid the foundation for the extension of VRA coverage to Latinos. In many ways, the 1975 extension of the VRA defines the beginning of the era of a national recognition of and expectations for Hispanic politics rather than the politics of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, or Cuban Americans. Federal legislation alone, however, does not guarantee the existence of a meaningful Latino politics. Instead, I argue that changes in immigration law in the mid-1960s and the dramatic changes in the composition of the Latino population that followed created the foundation for a set of shared interests among Latinos of different origins and ancestries, giving rise to a Latino politics that can be distinguished from the politics of other demographic groups. Both of these phenomena—the shared experiences that underpin national expectations of a singular voice in Latino politics and incentives for Hispanic leaders to organize to link with a seemingly unified voice to express the needs of Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latinos—must be understood as the twin foundations of today's Latino politics.

Shared Experiences and the Roots of Contemporary Latino Politics

The roots of contemporary Hispanic politics can be traced to the 19th century incorporation of Latin American and Caribbean populations into the expanding American empire (González, 2000) and to the initial state efforts to incorporate and exclude Latino populations. Characterizing Mexican Americans in the Southwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries or Puerto Ricans from the 1880s to the 1950s as “Hispanics” is a contemporary reading of history to be sure; acknowledging that they experienced similar forms of political exclusion and neglect that distinguished them from other immigrant and native populations in this same period is both historically accurate and key to identifying the foundations of shared experiences.

The extensive historical scholarship on the legal status, citizenship rights, land rights, elite political activities, and social relations of the former Mexican and Caribbean nationals offer insights into early forms of Latino politics. Space limitations preclude a detailed chronicle of the early Hispanic politics (Arellano, 2000; Gonzalez, 2000; Gutierrez, 1995; Jennings and Rivera, 1984; Sánchez Korrol, 1994). Instead, I highlight three elements of the pre-1975 formative period that conflict somewhat with common understandings of the Hispanic political past. This gap between the popular and scholarly understandings of the early Latino political reality explain the extension of the VRA to Latinos in 1975, and the bill's less dramatic impact on Latino voting than on black voting. Most significant is that, despite some superficial similarities, Latino political history is distinct from that of blacks with whom Latinos are sometimes, inaccurately, conflated. This point is particularly important because Congress's 1975 extension of the VRA to Hispanics and other language minorities, largely as a remedy for low political participation, erroneously assumed that Latino and black political needs were similar. As a result, the VRA has been less successful in remedying low rates of Hispanic participation.

Three historical circumstances and geographic realities undermined the ability of Latinos to express a cohesive voice to federal policy makers as Congress began to consider how best to remedy low Latino voting rates.

The first distinction between the Latino, in this case Mexican American, and black experiences involves the original mode of incorporation into U.S. society. Neither blacks nor Mexican Americans entered the United States voluntarily, but Mexican Americans joined the United States as citizens with treaty-based guarantees of land rights and the right of repatriation to Mexico. Although these treaty guarantees were quickly violated, Mexican Americans began their large-scale presence in the United States with representation and an elected leadership that never entirely disappeared, as occurred for blacks elected to office during Reconstruction. The territorial and state governments of New Mexico have always retained a significant plurality of Mexican American officeholders. And 20th-century Texas legislatures have included at least one Mexican American representative. At the local level, many Texas and New Mexico counties had continual Mexican American representation; California differed in this respect.

Uninterrupted Mexican American representation in parts of the Southwest reflects a second difference of the black and Latino political experiences, yet it constitutes a shared political foundational experience of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans in this era. Whereas blacks in the South faced intimidation and violence if they sought to participate in electoral politics, the modal experience for Latinos was one of manipulation—through political machines—and neglect (de la Garza and DeSipio, 1993; Montejano, 1987). Southwestern machine politics should not be confused with the machine experiences of many European immigrants in cities in the Northeast and Midwest because the Mexican American machines controlled votes for generations. Most of the European immigrant machines lost their hold on their clientele after a generation or two, and machines survived only by recruiting newer immigrants. Although Mexican American machines tended to serve the interests of local economic elites, often controlled by non-Hispanic whites, they encouraged Mexican American electoral participation and ensured the election of Mexican American officeholders. Thus, manipulation was the norm. Examples of violence against Mexican Americans seeking to exercise the franchise notwithstanding (Arellano, 2000; Montejano, 1987), the far bigger problem was the passivity that results from long-term machine politics and the commensurate sense of political incapacity they spurred among Mexican Americans.

U.S.-resident Puerto Ricans of this era also faced periods of political exclusion and periods of neglect (Jennings and Rivera, 1984; Sánchez Korrol, 1994). New York machine politics was in decay by the mid-20th century, effectively squelching active outreach (the Socialists did a bit more in the 1930s). Fearing Puerto Rican influence in close elections, some political leaders sought to disenfranchise them through language and literacy tests. Chicago's machine did not incorporate Puerto Rican voters in this era, nor did it actively exclude them.

A third political foundational experience is the relatively slow emergence of a civic infrastructure among Latinos compared with blacks of this era. Despite some notable exceptions, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans had poorer civic networks than did blacks in the middle of the 20th century. Among the reasons for this difference are the geographic dispersion of Mexican American populations in the Southwest, the predominantly rural nature of the population until the 1950s, circular migration flows among Puerto Ricans after the 1940s, and continued immigration. Also important in the weak development of Latino civic infrastructure are the electoral and partisan opportunities to shape policy outcomes enjoyed by Latino community elites that were denied to blacks (Pycior, 1997). This combination of opportunities for some Latino elites (particularly in Texas and New Mexico) to hold office combined with the rural and dispersed population bases to reduce the incentives for Latino community leaders to build community-based civic infrastructure prior to the 1950s. By contrast and despite the legal barriers, the denial of black political rights after Reconstruction created strong incentives at all class levels to organize to gain a political voice. With electoral politics precluded, civic organizing was a priority for all blacks.

Although Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latino populations had some local civic and political organizations prior to 1975, these were, for the most part, not integrated nationally. Rather, they reflected the reality of the Mexican American and Puerto Rican populations in this period—regional populations with little intergroup contact. Consequently, they were not able to present a cohesive voice to Congress when it began to consider how best to address low Latino voting rates.

The VRA is nevertheless the first pillar of contemporary Latino politics: a statutory recognition of a political community united by shared exclusion, particularly linguistic exclusion. As is discussed below, this federal recognition alone was insufficient for the emergence of a pan-ethnic politics. Moreover, when Congress extended the VRA to Latinos in 1975, there was little sense of a shared Latino political agenda at the mass level. During the 30 years that have since elapsed, this shared agenda has begun to emerge.

A Contemporary Latino Politics of Shared Interests

Despite the fact that many Latinos do not identify pan-ethnically or understand what they share in common with Latinos of other national origins, the majority share a set of issue preferences that distinguish them from other U.S. political constituencies. The emergence of this shared issue preference is sped by the high levels of mass migration from Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 40 years, which is the final pillar of contemporary Latino politics. The need to incorporate new Hispanic migrants into community politics has been a continuing community pressure, especially since the 1960s. Continuing new migration adds to difficulties in civic organizing (Gutiérrez, 1995). Throughout the 20th century, Latino political elites, and particularly Mexican American political elites, have had to overcome the legacies of past neglect while simultaneously dedicating community resources to the incorporation of new immigrants.3 With the surge in Latino migration since the 1970s, and particularly since the 1980s (see Chapters 2 and 3), civic integration pressures increased dramatically. Immigration has also increased the likelihood that Latinos of different national origins will come in contact with each other (see Chapter 4).

Opinion polls conducted over the past decade consistently demonstrate that Hispanics are focused on issues that create opportunities for their economic and social advance, what I have dubbed an “immigrant-settlement agenda” (DeSipio and de la Garza, 1999).4 Driving this immigrant-settlement agenda is the large share of the Latino population comprised of immigrants and their children who recognize that their advance in U.S. society depends on civil rights protections and publicly funded social services, particularly education. Asked about the most important issue facing the United States or the communities in which they reside, education almost always tops the list (de la Garza et al., 1992; Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2000; San Jose Mercury News, 2000; Suro, 2002; Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, 2000). Other top issues include the delivery of social services, public safety, public transportation, and reducing discrimination. These same issues appear, for the most part, when results are disaggregated by national origin. Cuban Americans are somewhat more likely than other national-origin groups to mention assistance for the elderly, but this too broadly fits in a social policy agenda.

It is noteworthy that Cuban Americans, who are often presented as the outliers in discussions of Latino political pan-ethnic unity, also prioritize these issues on their agendas (de la Garza et al., 1992, Tables 7.1, 7.2, 9.16, 10.38, 10.39, and 10.81). Depending on the poll and when it is conducted, Cubans are somewhat more likely than other Hispanics to mention a foreign policy issue, specifically Castro and Cuba. It is easy to focus on strong Cuban American attitudes on foreign policy to identify differences in political priorities among Latinos of different origins, but on domestic issues Cuban Americans are quite moderate and often ally with Democrats in Florida to ensure funding for social service programs, particularly programs for the elderly. As a practical example, neither Cuban American member of Congress signed the Republican Contract with America in 1994 because it cut federal social welfare benefits for immigrants. Although public opinion data are sparse on Latino national-origin groups that have begun to immigrate in large numbers in the past 25 years, available evidence indicates that Dominicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans share this immigrant-settlement policy agenda (DeSipio, Pachon, Gold, and Vargas, 1998).

A domestic agenda that emphasizes social issues partially distinguishes Latinos from non-Latinos. By comparison, non-Latinos are much more likely to name economic issues as policy priorities. Moreover, on shared priorities such as education, they often express different emphases. The Anglo discussion of education, as exemplified in the 2000 presidential race, focused on teacher and student testing and quality measures. When probed about what they mean by education, Latinos emphasize the process of education, mentioning such issues as expanding the number of schools, reducing class sizes, and adding to the cultural sensitivity of teachers and curricula. Other educational concerns expressed by Latinos include ensuring that children are able to advance to the next educational level.

A second way the Latino policy agenda differs from that of the majority has to do with taxation and the size of government. In contrast to the direction of national and state policy since at least since 1980, Latinos of all national origins report a willingness to pay additional taxes for an expansion in government programs. Cuban Americans are as likely as other Hispanic-origin groups to take positions advocating higher taxes and expanded government on such issues as crime control and drug prevention, child care services, environmental protection, science and technology, defense, and programs for refugees and immigrants (de la Garza et al., 1992, Tables 7.2, 7.4, and 10.40). A willingness to pay higher taxes for expanded government services reflects higher levels of trust in the U.S. government among Hispanics relative to non-Hispanics (de la Garza et al., 1992, Tables 6.3 and 10.32; Suro, 2002). Of all Hispanic national-origin groups, Cuban Americans reported the highest levels of trust in the U.S. government.

Equally worthy of note are the issues that do not dominate this Latino agenda. Only a small share of Latinos identify ethnic-specific issues, such as U.S. relations with Latin America or bilingual education, as the top issue facing their nation or their communities of residence. These issues do not appear even when surveys probe on the most important issue facing Latinos. Immigration is somewhat more commonly mentioned, but Latino positions are very different from those of non-Hispanics in that both express concern about the volume of contemporary migration. Compared to non-Hispanics, however, Latinos are more concerned that immigrants, regardless of status, be treated fairly. Finally, the issues of the conservative agenda—abortion, family values, the death penalty—are rarely mentioned as important issues, a theme elaborated further in the discussion of partisanship below.

Latino leaders are working to build on this issue-based foundation for a pan-ethnic Latino politics. National Latino civic and civil rights organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, focus their organizational energies around the issues that unite Latinos regardless of national origin. These elite and organizational efforts to forge a pan-ethnic political agenda is assisted by a second consequence of large-scale immigration in Latino communities. Increasingly, Latinos are coming into regular contact with Latinos of different national origins. When the VRA was extended to Latinos in 1975, most areas of Hispanic concentration were relatively homogeneous by national origin. Today, most major cities have multiple Latino national-origin groups among their populations. Although one dominates, most urban Latinos live in multiethnic settings and consequently experience their shared political goals.

The extension of the VRA to Latinos in 1975 recognized a shared history of political exclusion and manipulation, often based on language. Hence, Congress characterized the newly covered population as the “Spanish language minority.” It would have been presumptuous in 1975 to assume that the language minority shared a political agenda. Thirty years hence, however, changes in the composition of the Latino population, elite efforts at political unity, and changed residential patterns have laid the foundation for the creation of a modestly cohesive Latino issue agenda that differs in important ways from that of non-Latinos. A shared issue agenda, however, neither ensures partisan unity nor guarantees routine political influence. It nevertheless provides a basis for references to and analyses of “Latino politics,” with the caveat that their political agenda(s) and it/their eventual direction remains in formation.

Latino Civic Engagement and Political Influence

What is the nature, extent, and consequence of Latino political engagement? To answer this question, I analyze three dimensions of Latino civic engagement and political influence. First I offer a brief overview of comparative civic and electoral participation rates for Latinos and non-Latinos. Second, I analyze the institutional structures and demographic characteristics that explain much of this gap. Finally, I assess Hispanic influence on the shape of contemporary political outcomes.

Latinos participate politically at lower rates than non-Hispanic whites and blacks.5 The magnitude of the gap varies depending on the type of participation, but the pattern is consistent. Population composition differences between Latino and non-Latino populations explain much of this gap and can be measured reliably. The remainder is the result of institutional arrangements and the legacies of past exclusion, but these factors cannot be measured as accurately with available survey and turnout data.

Most scholarship on Latino politics focuses on electoral politics (de la Garza, 2004), but their below-average participation also obtains for activities in which non-U.S. citizen Latinos can engage. Although reliable comparative data for other immigrant populations are lacking, available evidence indicates that immigrant Latinos are not substituting political activity in their countries of origin for U.S. political engagement.

Latino Civic Engagement

The most common forms of civic engagement in Latino communities, as in the population as a whole, are voting, organizational activity, charitable activities, and school-based activities. The share of Latinos who participate in each of these activities varies, but rarely exceeds half of adults. In recent presidential elections, for example, approximately 45 percent of Latino U.S. citizen adults voted (de la Garza and DeSipio, 2005); the percentage increased slightly to 47 percent in 2004. Turnout is much higher in Puerto Rican elections (a theme I return to later); more than 82 percent of Puerto Ricans on the island voted in the 2000 elections. Among parents, surveys find that 30 to 40 percent are involved with activities in their children's schools on a regular basis (de la Garza et al., 1992, Tables 8.12 and 10.73). Approximately 40 percent of Latinos report making charitable contributions in a prior year. If church membership is excluded, approximately one-third of Latinos are members of community-based organizations (de la Garza and Lu, 1998). Churches see higher participation rates, in the range of 70 percent, but it is not clear that these activities are civic in nature (DeSipio, forthcoming).

These levels of participation vary somewhat across Latino national-origin groups, but the intra-Latino differences disappear when socioeconomic differences are accounted for. In general, Latinos participate in these common civic activities at lower rates than non-Hispanic whites or blacks (de la Garza et al., 1992, Table 8.11; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, 1995: Chapter 8). The one exception to this pattern is self-reported involvement in school-based activities among parents, in which Latino and non-Latino participation rates are similar.

Other forms of civic engagement, such as protest, lobbying, making contributions to or working for political campaigns, and seeking to influence the policy-making process, involve smaller shares of Hispanics. No more than 10 percent of Latinos report having been involved in these activities. These patterns are broadly similar to those of other racial and ethnic groups. Few consistent differences appear among Latino national-origin groups in these less common activities (de la Garza et al., 1992, Table 8.11; DeSipio et al., 1998).

Immigrant Latinos have the opportunity to participate in a form of politics available to few non-Hispanic whites and blacks—involvement in the politics of their home countries or home communities. Similar patterns appear in Latino immigrant transnational behaviors that appear in U.S. political activities (see Table 11-1). Across a range of electoral, civic, and organizational activities, relatively few participate (DeSipio, Pachon, de la Gaza, and Lee, 2003). Approximately one-third of Latino immigrants reported that they attended a cultural or educational event related to their home country in the past year, but less than 1 in 10 attended a rally for home-country political candidates, attended a meeting to discuss home-country political affairs, or sought assistance from the home-country embassy or consulate. The exception to this pattern is a passive activity, following home-country politics in the news. Dominican immigrants and Puerto Rican migrants are more likely to have been engaged in transnational political activities than Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants (a result that persists in multivariate tests).

TABLE 11-1. Latino Immigrant/Migrant Home National Participation .

TABLE 11-1

Latino Immigrant/Migrant Home National Participation .

This pattern of lower Latino participation extends to voting as well. Approximately 57.9 percent of U.S. citizen adult Latinos were registered to vote at the time of the 2004 election, and 47.2 percent turned out to vote (see Table 11-2).6 The registration and turnout rates are approximately 10 percent lower than those of non-Hispanic blacks and 18 percent lower than those of non-Hispanic whites. During the period for which there are reliable data on Latino turnout, they have voted at lower rates than blacks and whites. While these gaps have narrowed slightly, Latino turnout has not increased, despite the considerable growth in outreach to Latino voters over the past 20 years.

TABLE 11-2. Registration and Turnout Among U.S. Citizen Adults, by Race/Ethnic Group, 2000 .

TABLE 11-2

Registration and Turnout Among U.S. Citizen Adults, by Race/Ethnic Group, 2000 .

Although there is relatively little research on the effect of immigrant generation on political behavior, available evidence suggests that immigrants are less likely to be involved in civic and nonelectoral political activities than are U.S. citizen Latinos (DeSipio, 2003b). Participation among immigrants generally increases with longer residence in the United States (DeSipio, 1996a). Once naturalized, Latino immigrants participate at lower rate than do U.S.-born Latinos (DeSipio, 1996b; Levitt and Olson, 1996; Minnite, Holdaway, and Hayduk, 1999; Mollenkopf, Olson, and Ross, 2001). Small sample sizes in surveys require some caution in generalization, but at least in terms of voting, the available evidence indicates that the third generation votes at higher rates than the second generation, controlling for demographic predictors of participation (DeSipio, 2003b).

In sum, Latino engagement in the civic and political life of the United States has been extensively measured, and the patterns found are relatively consistent. Latino engagement looks like that of other populations except that the rates are lower. Latinos have high levels of political efficacy (the sense that they can have individual influence over government) and generally trust government and civic institutions, so that lower levels of participation should not be interpreted as dissatisfaction with U.S. politics. Instead, as I discuss in the next section, the Latino-non-Latino participation gap results from institutional structures that lead to differential levels of mobilization and compositional differences between Latino and non-Latino populations.

Institutional Structures and Demographic Barriers

The reasons for Latino civic and electoral participation and nonparticipation are for the most part not unique to Latino communities. Rather, many of the factors that shape Latino participation affect all U.S. populations, but the impact is more pronounced for Latinos, owing to compositional differences between Latino and non-Latino populations. These compositional characteristics, however, do not explain all participation differences. Institutional differences also play a role. One such institutional factor already mentioned is distinct—the VRA. After analyzing its influence on Latino participation, I turn to some more general institutional factors that shape the political behaviors of all contemporary electorates.

Institutional Structures Shaping Latino Political Engagement

In 1975, Congress extended VRA coverage to four language-minority communities—Hispanics, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives. Congress targeted these populations, and not all ethnic or linguistic minorities, on grounds that they had experienced multigenerational exclusion based on linguistic difference. Congress extended to these populations the same coverage that blacks had received in 1965—federal oversight of voter registration, voting procedures, and electoral rule changes—in areas with high concentrations of blacks and lower than average black voter turnout. The 1975 VRA extension added one specific protection for language minorities, bilingual election materials. Congress added to these targeted protections in 1982 when it mandated that jurisdictions had a responsibility to draw districts that would elect the candidate of a covered minority group's choice in areas where the size and concentration of the minority population allowed for drawing such a district. This “majority-minority” districting provision shifted the focus of the act from eliminating barriers to participation to encouraging minority officeholding.

The overall effect of VRA on Latino empowerment has been positive (but perhaps not as positive as many think), yet these benefits have come at a cost. First, Congress failed to use the opportunity of the 1975 extension to examine why Latinos voted at lower rates than non-Hispanic whites.7 Instead, it simply assumed that the reasons were the same as those for blacks (de la Garza and DeSipio, 1993). In other words, neither in 1975 nor in subsequent debates over VRA extension did Congress assess the unique features of Latino political history that shape Latino political behavior today, most notably the multiple generations of voter manipulation among eligible Hispanic voters. The “one size fits all” solution does not address the core reasons for low Latino electoral participation.

Second, by creating opportunities for Latino officeholding, in some cases ahead of the community mobilization traditionally necessary to elect people to office, the VRA shifted the focus of weak community and civic organizations away from mass organization and toward electing Latinos to office. This is an important goal. It may have, however, short-circuited the process of organizational development in Latino communities just as group numbers were reaching levels of critical mass sufficient for political mobilization.

Finally, because the VRA linked the needs of all Latinos in a blanket extension to the Spanish-heritage population, it may have eventually undercut legislative or judicial support for continued Latino VRA coverage (the VRA is next up for renewal in 2007). To the extent that Congress examined political history to justify VRA extension to Latinos, it looked primarily to the Mexican American experience and to a lesser degree to that of Puerto Ricans. Other Latinos, including those yet to establish a critical mass through immigration, were brought into coverage, despite an explicit decision by Congress not to extend VRA coverage to all ethnic or linguistic minorities. Congress or the courts may eliminate VRA coverage for all Latinos in the future, including coverage of descendants of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans who faced sustained electoral manipulation and exclusion, if the perception arises that the primary beneficiaries are post-1965 immigrants and their children.

The extension of VRA coverage to Latinos in 1975 jumpstarted a new incentive structure for new institutions in American politics to reach out to Latinos. Prior to 1975, Hispanic political participation was characterized by the absence of institutional incentives to participate and the failure to adapt institutions that have successfully spurred mobilization among other populations. The Latino population includes a disproportionate share of individuals who need incentives to vote and to participate in other forms of civic activity, such as new immigrants, Hispanics who were socialized politically during periods when their participation was discouraged by law or practice, and descendants of those never socialized into U.S. politics.

The experience of Latinos is not unique in U.S. immigrant history. What differs today is that political and civic institutions that mobilized new participants in the past have lost their ability to fill this role in American democracy. Most notable among these are political parties which, from the 1830s on, served as the engine of mass political participation in the United States. This role steadily declined throughout the 20th century as parties shifted their focus to fundraising, candidate recruitment, and technical support for candidates. Contemporary parties do little to mobilize new voters (Wattenberg, 2002). Instead, they have become increasingly skilled at identifying voters who turn out regularly. Prior to an election, they inform regular voters, but reach out to less regular voters only in the most competitive of races. Party skill at drawing electoral districts, single-member plurality electoral systems, and relatively low turnout among new voters reduces the number of these competitive races. The Latino community is disadvantaged by such strategies because it has a higher share of registered voters who do not go to the polls and a higher share of adult citizens who are not registered.

This selective outreach is reinforced by candidates and campaigns. Increasingly, candidates rely on expensive “air wars” (advertising campaigns) that provide information and encouragement to people who are likely to vote but do little to educate or mobilize people who are more distant from electoral politics. To pay for these air wars, candidates spend a higher share of their time fundraising and less time meeting citizens. Personal outreach, whether by candidates or their supporters, has been shown to spur Latino turnout, even when controlling for the effects of age, education, and income (Shaw et al., 2000).

Parties are certainly not the only civic institution that could take a role in mobilization. Unions have traditionally filled this role for many immigrants, as have ethnic civic organizations. But like parties, unions have also declined as mass organizations. Their decline, however, slowed somewhat in the 1990s. Several unions in New York and Los Angeles can attribute their revitalization to outreach to Latinos and other immigrants. Examples include New York's Health and Hospital Workers (Local 1199) and Los Angeles's Hotel Workers and Restaurant Employees. Based on their experiences, the American Federation of Labor has begun to invest in a campaign to reach out to Latinos and other immigrants and to recast trade unionism's traditional animosity toward expansive immigration policies.

Civic organizations can also fill gaps left by the decline in party-based mobilization. The NALEO has experimented over the past four years with targeted mobilization in high- and medium-concentration Latino areas and among the newly naturalized. Although they demonstrate a positive impact on turnout, their efforts are very expensive and are difficult to fund with philanthropic support because of risks that their efforts can be perceived as partisan. Electoral mobilization methodologies are poorly developed, hence their effectiveness is often limited (Green and Gerber, 2004).

State and local electoral laws also shape the opportunity for Latino electoral engagement. Latinos, and particularly Mexican Americans, are overwhelmingly concentrated in “reform” states, such as California. Reform states structured their electoral laws to reduce the power of organized interests and political parties. In California, for example, campaigns for all but state-level and national races are nonpartisan (Segura and Woods, 2002). So, there is no “D” or “R” cue for voters. The absence of this cue makes voting more confusing and difficult, dampening participation among adult citizens with low levels of political socialization. These reform states also practice various forms of direct democracy, such as the initiative, referendum, and recall. These direct democracy tools were passed with the notion that they would decentralize the democracy, but they confuse new participants, increase the information cost of participating, and also create the opportunity for majorities to limit the political gains of electoral minorities. Again, they serve to dampen Latino participation relative to Anglo participation.

More recently, many reform states have implemented term limits. Initially, term limits served as a boon to Latino officeholding, as they sped the transition from Anglo to Latino officeholders in districts where Latino population concentration rose. After the initial positive impact on Latino electability, however, term limits slowed the development of Latino electoral leadership. Newly elected Latinos did not have the opportunity to develop legislative and leadership skills that many of their Anglo and black predecessors had. Almost as soon as they are elected, these officeholders have to begin to plan their move to the next level of elective office. One reason that there are so few Latinos competing for statewide or national office is that legislatures that traditionally served as training grounds for executive office cannot fill this role when legislators are termed out after six or eight years.

The impact of the institutional factors on Latino turnout appears in a clear natural experiment examining electoral turnout among Puerto Ricans living on the island and on the mainland (Cámara Fuertes, 2004). Unlike other Latino migrants, Puerto Ricans become immediately eligible to register to vote in the United States upon migration and to vote within one month of arrival. Despite these relatively equal opportunities to participate politically in the United States or in Puerto Rico, turnout in Puerto Rican elections is approximately twice as high as Puerto Rican participation in mainland elections. The explanation for this difference is not entirely institutional; Puerto Rican elections involve contests between parties that are organized around the central question in island politics—status. But the structure of elections also differs, most notably in the near universal voter registration in Puerto Rico, the close competition between the two leading parties, the relative infrequency of elections and smaller number of races being contested, and the clear focus on party affiliation and party loyalty among all candidates. Each of these characteristics makes voting easier in Puerto Rico and increases turnout. At over 80 percent, Puerto Rico boasts a very high turnout among democracies.

Latino Demographics and Their Consequences for Civic and Electoral Participation

A second part of the explanation for the gaps between Latinos and non-Hispanic whites is demographic and is not contested among scholars of Latino politics (de la Garza, 2004). Because the best data focus on voting, I use them to elaborate this point, but similar patterns exist for other forms of participation.

Table 11-3 presents CPS estimates of voter turnout in the 2000 election. Two things are evident from these tabulations. First, similar patterns appear for Latinos, non-Hispanic whites, and non-Hispanic blacks. Younger people vote at lower rates than do older people. Individuals with lower incomes vote at lower rates than people with higher incomes. And people with lower levels of formal education vote at lower rates than people with higher levels of education. The gap in turnout between the youngest, lowest education, and lowest family income categories and the highest is wider than the gap between Latinos and non-Latinos. Latinos do vote at lower rates than whites in most categories, but these gaps are narrower than across the age, education, and income categories. Second, the adult citizen Latino population includes higher shares of young individuals, those with lower incomes, and those with less formal education. More than 30 percent of Hispanic adult citizens, for example, have less than a high school education. Just 12 percent of non-Hispanic white adult citizens have less than a high school education. These differences in composition are largely responsible for Hispanic–non-Hispanic participation gaps.

TABLE 11-3. Turnout Rates and Share of Adult Citizen Population for Age, Education, and Income Cohorts of Latinos, Non-Hispanic Whites, and Non-Hispanic Blacks, 2000 .

TABLE 11-3

Turnout Rates and Share of Adult Citizen Population for Age, Education, and Income Cohorts of Latinos, Non-Hispanic Whites, and Non-Hispanic Blacks, 2000 .

A final demographic factor that dampens Latino participation relative to Anglo participation is high rates of non-U.S. citizenship. Since the passage of the VRA, the Latino electorate increased by 183 percentage points (see Table 11-4). Eligible noncitizens who do not vote increased slightly less (176 percent). The number of adult non-U.S. citizens rose from 1.9 million in 1976 to more than 8.4 million in 2000, a 350 percent increase. Stated differently, each new Latino voter was matched by one nonvoter in this same period and nearly two adult non-U.S. citizen Latinos. Thus, the share of Latino nonparticipants in electoral politics or in other forms of civic engagement is much higher than for either blacks or whites, and these nonparticipants are overwhelmingly non-U.S. citizens. These nonparticipants not only mute the political voice of Latinos, but also they make predictions about the future (the final task of this chapter) more uncertain.

TABLE 11-4. Latino Adult Voters, Adult Citizen Nonvoters, and Adult Non-U.S. Citizens, 1976–2000 .

TABLE 11-4

Latino Adult Voters, Adult Citizen Nonvoters, and Adult Non-U.S. Citizens, 1976–2000 .

Institutions, Demographics, and Participation: An Overview

When these demographic factors are accounted for in multivariate analyses, a gap remains between Latino and non-Hispanic white participation (Bass and Casper, 2001; Calvo and Rosenstone, 1989; DeSipio, 1996a; Wolfinger and Rosenstone, 1980). Several hypotheses have been offered to explain the remaining gap and generally focus on institutional structures, but empirical data are insufficient to fully test them. The most actively debated among these is a hypothesis that the concentration of Latino adults in areas of very low electoral competition reduces mobilization incentives for candidates and other political institutions (Barreto, Segura, and Woods, 2002; de la Garza and DeSipio, 1993; de la Garza, Menchaca, and DeSipio, 1994; Leighley, 2001). Other explanations relate to the dampening effect on Latino participation of a high share of naturalized citizens in the adult citizen population, because of evidence of lower participation among the naturalized than the U.S.-born (DeSipio, 1996b; Pantoja, Ramirez, and Segura, 2001); the disproportionate effects of electoral laws on Latino turnout, because of Latino concentration in reform states (Alvarez and Ansolabehere 2002); and a residual tie to home-country politics among immigrant Latinos (Jones-Correa, 1998).

Latinos and the Shape of American Politics

Despite their muted political voice, Latinos do influence American politics. This impact will increase as the Latino population grows and the population meets the threshold for influence in district-based elections and municipal politics that reward population concentration. I examine three expressions of Latino political influence. First, partisanship and ideology measure individual attitudes and indicate potential for both unity and division among Latinos. The second, representation, assesses how Latinos have used institutional guarantees in the VRA combined with the power of their growing numbers to increase their formal representation in American politics. Finally, I assess naturalization, which I maintain is both the most important yet most unpredictable resource at the disposal of the community that will determine its future political voice.

Latino Partisanship and Ideology

Latinos are strong partisans (see Table 11-5). Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans are strong Democrats; Florida Cuban Americans are strong Republicans, while their New Jersey coethnics vote reliably Democratic. This strong partisanship distinguishes Latinos from non-Hispanic whites, who are divided in their loyalties to the two parties. This strong Latino partisanship does not mean that Latinos are as partisan as blacks, who routinely offer the Democrats an eight-to-one advantage nationally.

TABLE 11-5. Latino U.S. Citizen Partisanship and Ideology (%) .

TABLE 11-5

Latino U.S. Citizen Partisanship and Ideology (%) .

These levels of Latino partisanship have been relatively stable over the past 25 years. Republicans made some small gains in Latino partisanship during the 1980s, but not in the period since. Rather, the interesting shift has been among some Cuban Americans who have moved more toward the Democrats, or at least used their votes tactically in specific elections. It is quite possible, for example, that Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole among Cuban Americans.

These partisan loyalties are tied to the issue base of each party. Republicans, for example, often focus on Mexican American opposition to abortion, support for the death penalty, and support for traditional gender roles, to predict that Mexican Americans will become Republican. As I indicated in the discussion of Latino issue preference, these issues rarely drive Mexican American political engagement. Instead, concern with education and social service delivery cements Mexican American and Puerto Rican loyalty to the Democrats. Yet Democrats have not predicted a Florida Cuban conversion. Arguably, however, when Fidel Castro leaves office and foreign policy assumes lower priority on the Cuban American agenda, the same issues that link Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans to the Democrats will spur a shift among Cuban Americans to the Democrats. I do not expect that this will happen quickly, but I also do not see the foundation for non-Cuban Latinos to shift to the Republicans, as some pundits predict.

Latino ideology is less understood and needs further study. Beginning with the Latino National Political Survey, there has been a relatively consistent but surprising finding that Latinos identify themselves ideologically as moderates and conservatives (see Table 11-5). This ideological self-identification conflicts somewhat with the policy concerns of the community, which generally seek an expanded role for government (and a willingness to pay more taxes to fund these government activities). They also contradict the partisan loyalties of most Latinos to the Democrats. While I do not resolve this conflict here, I suspect that ideological self-identification reflects a different understanding of the meanings of “liberal” and “conservative” in Latino communities. This difference in meaning is particularly evident among immigrants who do not associate liberal and conservative with the same policies that majority populations do. Instead, conservatism reflects a desire to protect what has been achieved. If Latinos see government as an ally in achieving success in U.S. society, both moderates and conservatives can advocate expanded government and increased taxation.

Representation and Elective Office

In the period since the extension of the VRA to Latinos, the number of Latino officeholders has increased dramatically. The only pre-1975 count of Latino officeholders found that, in 1973, there were 1,280 in the 6 states with the largest Latino populations (Lemus, 1973). By 2003, these same states had 4,130 Latino office holders, an increase of 228 percent (see Table 11-6). Nationally, there were 4,623 Latino office holders in 2003.

TABLE 11-6. Latino Elected Officials 1973–2003, Selected Years .

TABLE 11-6

Latino Elected Officials 1973–2003, Selected Years .

Clearly, Latinos have been gaining access to elective office, but the surge in Latino officeholding has barely kept pace with demographic growth. Because neither immigrants nor new births—the components of growth—can immediately vote, maintaining parity with population growth represents an achievement. That said, Latinos are as underrepresented as they were at the beginning of the modern era of Latino politics. Being a much larger population, however, this has more serious implications for governance and policy making. Less than 1 percent of officeholders nationwide are Latino.

The vast majority of Latino officeholders are elected for local offices, such as school board members and city council members. Approximately 200 can be found in state legislative offices, in statewide offices, or in the U.S. Congress. One Latino holds a governorship—New Mexico's Bill Richardson—and three Latinos serve in the U.S. Senate. Traditionally, local offices serve as the steppingstones for election to more senior positions, so in some sense the growth in the pool of Latino officeholders bodes well for the future.

Several recent elections, however, have cast some doubt on the likelihood of the quick rise of a new pool of Latinos in national and statewide office. Over the past few years, serious Latino candidates have lost races for governor in California and Texas and for the mayoralties of Los Angeles, Houston, and New York. After an initial defeat in 2001, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2005. All Latinos in the U.S. Congress represent districts at least 40 percent Latino, as do most Latinos in state legislatures. Only one Latino in Congress gained office by beating an Anglo incumbent. There are a few more such seats that are not represented by Latinos, but future gains in officeholding will have to come from victories in districts with lower densities of Hispanics. Should legal challenges to the majority-minority districting provisions of the VRA succeed, such as the Supreme Court's ruling in Shaw v. Reno, steady growth in the number of Latino elected officials could end and underrepresentation will increase.

When asked, Latinos indicate that they want to be represented by the best person, not necessarily the best Latino candidate. While I have been dubious of these responses in the past (they appear on multiple surveys), I am increasingly convinced. In several recent elections, and most notably in California's recall replacement election, a large share of Latino voters did not vote for the leading Latino candidate. In the California case, the Latino candidate—Lieutenant Governor Bustamante—ran a poor campaign that did little to reach out to Latino voters. He paid a price for this neglect (DeSipio and Masuoka, 2006). In other recent cases, Latinos in Democratic areas have rejected Latino Republican candidates in favor of white Latino Democrats (Michelson and Leon, 2001).

The consequences of Latino representation for Latino community empowerment have been less well studied than the individual dimensions of Latino participation and policy preferences (de la Garza, 2004). Studies of this question are considerably more difficult because they require analysis of the political cultures and local political coalitions of individual jurisdictions, but they will take on increasing importance in coming years. The VRA has ensured that the number of Latino officeholders and the share of the Latino population represented by Latino officeholders have steadily increased. As the VRA itself is challenged and new gains have to come at the expense of black populations in some areas, coalitional politics will take on added importance for Latino empowerment.

Naturalization

Future growth in Latino electoral participation will depend on spurring naturalization trends. A recent estimate indicates that 4.2 million Latino legal permanent residents are eligible for naturalization (as are 3.5 million non-Latino legal permanent residents) (NALEO Educational Fund, 2004). Available survey evidence indicates that the vast majority of Latinos eligible for U.S. citizenship want, someday, to become citizens. Approximately 85 percent of Latino immigrants intend to become U.S. citizens, two thirds of citizenship-eligible Latino immigrants have done something concrete to naturalize, and slightly more than 40 percent have naturalized (DeSipio, 1996a). While achieving this goal will require considerable effort on the part of ethnic and national leaders, alone it will not be sufficient to ensure higher Latino electoral participation.

The number of Latinos naturalizing is growing (see Table 11-7). In the early 1990s, the average number of Latinos naturalizing each year rose from 36,000 to 90,000. By 1996, the number had grown to as many as 422,000 and now averages in the high 100,000s. Although Mexican immigrants make up the majority of these new U.S. citizens (as they do of Latino legal immigrants to the United States), the numbers of Dominican, Salvadoran, and Colombian naturalized immigrants have also grown rapidly. The surge of naturalization in the late 1990s—resulting from a combination of a national challenge to the status and rights of U.S. immigrants, Immigration and Naturalization Service policy changes, and active promotion of naturalization rights in immigrant communities—reduced the number of immigrants eligible to naturalize. The number of citizenship-eligible immigrant Latinos remains large, however, and is growing again.

TABLE 11-7. Naturalization Trends by Country of Origin, 1991–2002 .

TABLE 11-7

Naturalization Trends by Country of Origin, 1991–2002 .

The formal rules for naturalization as a U.S. citizen are modest relative to most other immigrant-receiving countries. Immigrants must have resided legally in the United States for five years (three if married to a U.S. citizen). They must also demonstrate the ability to speak, write, and read English and demonstrate knowledge of basic U.S. history and civics. They must submit an application to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the naturalization branch of the Immigration and Naturalization Service) and pay a fee of $320, plus a separate $70 fee for finger-printing. As part of the application, they must demonstrate that they are of “good moral character,” generally interpreted to mean that applicants have not committed serious crimes in the United States; are not a public charge (that they have not received needs-based social welfare benefits for more than half of the previous five years); and are willing to take an oath to defend the Constitution that requires that they abjure loyalty to their former sovereign. Applications filed take approximately 15 months for review.

Of these requirements, the most innocuous—the application form—proves to be the most burdensome. Approximately twice as many Latinos eligible for naturalization request but do not complete the application as complete the naturalization process (Pachon and DeSipio, 1994). The current application is 10 pages and includes questions on hereditary titles to nobility and service in Nazi concentration camps.

This finding partially explains the gap between immigrants who naturalize and immigrants who do not. As with voting, naturalization is more likely to occur among older immigrants with higher incomes and more formal education. Longer residence in the United States and the higher share of life spent in the United States also increase the likelihood of naturalization (DeSipio, 1996a). Among Asian immigrants, there also appears to be a relationship between naturalization and the desire to immigrate relatives, but this relationship is less clear among immigrants from the Americas.

As was evident during the surge of naturalization in the late 1990s, increased community resources to support naturalization raise the likelihood that interested immigrants will complete the naturalization process. Community-based resources are not a constant. In the past, immigrant service agencies and political parties have promoted naturalization, but today those resources are rare (DeSipio, 1996a). Latino immigrants report that the most important reason for naturalizing is to achieve political voice and to vote, so this elite neglect has an impact on Latino political power.

One change in the structure of naturalization deserves note and may change the current dynamic. Many immigrant-sending countries, including many Latin American nations, are expanding opportunities for naturalized citizens to maintain the citizenship of their country of origin. While immigrants formally renounce their former citizenship at the time of naturalization, the United States does not prevent its newest citizens from reestablishing their former citizenship. To the extent that concerns about loss of nationality prevented some immigrants from pursuing U.S. citizenship, this new tolerance for and promotion of dual nationality may expand the pool of immigrants pursuing naturalization.

THE LATINO POLITICAL FUTURE

The discussion so far establishes that the Latino political agenda, to the extent that it exists, is driven by a set of issues that bridge Latino national-origin groups and immigrant generations. While these issues are neither outside the American mainstream nor particularly controversial (contrary to what Huntington [2004] might fear), they do have the potential to shift debates in American politics by matters of degree. A Latino-influenced American political order would focus to a much greater degree on public education, social services, and health issues. It would not seek continued reductions in the size and scope of government, as has been the focus of national politics for the last 25 years, and would instead seek to enhance government capacity in domestic politics.

The extent to which Latinos have been able to organize around this shared political agenda is somewhat limited by institutional and demographic barriers that are not unique to the Latino community, but have a disproportionate impact because of the composition of the population and its geographic locations. For these reasons, the Latino politics of the period since the VRA has rarely lived up to the hype that surrounds it. Outcomes that disappoint naïve observers—such as the mayoral losses in Los Angeles, New York, and Houston in 2001 and the gubernatorial losses in Texas and California in 2002 and 2003—far exceed the unexpected victories—such as Loretta Sánchez's congressional victory over Republican Robert Dornan in California in 1996.

Politics, however, is not simply a numbers game (though, ultimately, votes must be counted). Well-placed individuals and the serendipity of calculations of winning coalitions can propel individuals to unexpected levels of prominence and with them the electoral group they are perceived to represent. Many unmet expectations of the Latino politics since the passage of the VRA would be diminished in the popular mind if, for example, Henry Cisneros had been selected as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 and that ticket had won, or if New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had been selected as John Kerry's running mate and that ticket had won in 2004. The latter scenario has been enhanced by the win in the Florida U.S. Senate race by former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, the win in the Colorado U.S. Senate race by Attorney General Ken Salazar, and the appointment of Representative Robert Menendez to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. Clearly, a handful of victories, no matter how important, would not change the bigger picture of unmet expectations and lower than average levels of electoral participation and other forms of civic engagement, but they would move Latino politics to a new level of national prominence and, arguably, policy influence.

Ultimately, though, for Latinos to effectively use politics to routinely achieve their public policy needs, democratic institutions must be more responsive to their demands. To show possible directions for the future, I propose three models (these are adapted from the discussion of 20th-century new electorates in DeSipio [1996a]). The most optimistic assumes some national trigger that moves into the electorate many in the large pool of Latino adults who either do not vote or are ineligible to vote due to noncitizenship. Conceivably, such a trigger could dramatically increase the Latino electorate over a few elections and strengthen their political influence. The converse of this has the Latino electorate following the pattern of non-Latino electorates, with even less successful recruitment of new voters and the ongoing reinforcement of the passivity that results from the legacy of past exclusion. Under this scenario, Latino votes decline between some elections and the strong partisanship that Latinos display declines to such a degree that parties and candidates reduce their already limited mobilization efforts. Finally, the most likely scenario is that Latinos will continue to see incremental growth over successive election cycles based on the gradual growth of the Latino electorate. Over time, however, even slow incremental growth increases the chances that Latinos will be the critical deciding factor in electoral outcomes.

The American electorate has seen the rapid mobilization of previously small electorates. Most recently, blacks moved from an infinitesimal share of the national electorate to between 5 and 10 percent as soon as the VRA was passed. Much community organization preceded black political mobilization, but a scenario can be envisioned in which Latino nonvoters (who numbered 20 million in 2004) feel a comparable urgency to become participants and act on their growing numbers. When California voters had to decide on Proposition 187, which excluded illegal immigrants from social services, health care, and public education, Latino registration and voting surged. This surge also included a surge in naturalization. While this momentum was localized and dissipated somewhat, particularly when the Immigration and Naturalization Service slowed the pace of naturalization reviews, a comparable trigger on the national level could boost Latino electoral participation dramatically. Presumably, the pool of nonvoters required for this scenario to be effective are noncitizens, so naturalization would have to precede political participation. Naturalization backlogs—eventually involving waits of years—might well dampen whatever urgency fueled the potential surge.

A second possible trajectory for Latino politics is that it will become indistinguishable from majority politics. European ethnics—who were critical to the Roosevelt coalition but now are defined not by their ethnicity but by class, state, and, perhaps, children's sporting practices—illustrate this scenario. Women joined the electorate with much fanfare in the 1920s, as did 18- to 20-year-olds in 1972, but they quickly disappeared as potentially cohesive electorates. A decline or disappearance of a salient Latino politics could result from repeated defeats in high-profile races building on the passivity that results from the legacies of past exclusion. In a sense, in this scenario, the energy would be taken out of the Latino political movement. The continual inflow of newly naturalized Latino citizens as well as second-generation Latinos coming of political age, however, renders this scenario unlikely for the foreseeable future.

What is left, then, is a continuation and perhaps acceleration of the Latino politics that has emerged since the extension of the VRA in 1975: incremental growth in the electorate accompanied by an increase in the mass recognition of a shared Latino policy agenda (encouraged by continued elite efforts to form a Latino political community).

Incrementalism in this scenario does not imply political unimportance. Assuming naturalizations at the rates of the early 2000s and the political maturity of the second generation when it moves into its late 30s and 40s, current growth levels would ensure that the Latino share of the national vote would increase from the 6.0 percent of 2004 to 7.4 percent in 2012 and 9.5 in 2024 (see Table 11-8). The Latino vote in some of the larger states would be even more sizeable: 21.7 percent of California's vote in 2012 compared with 16.2 percent in 2004; 18.2 percent of Florida's 2012 vote compared with 11.2 percent in 2004; 8.2 percent of New York's 2012 vote compared with 8.0 percent in 2004; and 21.7 percent of Texas's 2012 vote compared with 19.3 percent in 2004.

TABLE 11-8. Estimates of Future Latino Votes, 2012 and 2024, National and Selected States .

TABLE 11-8

Estimates of Future Latino Votes, 2012 and 2024, National and Selected States .

Do these numbers necessarily mean that Latinos will be more influential (or that Latinos will be more involved in other forms of politics)? Not necessarily, but even with gradually increasing numbers, the odds of seren-dipitous opportunities, such as a Richardson selection or a few more Senate victories, grow. More importantly, larger numbers increase the incentive for non-Latinos to vote with Latinos in close elections. As the nation—and particularly its largest states—becomes increasingly multiethnic, coalition politics will become more the norm. This middle trajectory of incremental growth relies on the continuing reality of a shared Latino issue agenda and ethnic leaders who seek to organize across national origin and generation lines. Ultimately, then, the Latino politics of the near future rests on the questions that underpin my analysis. The tensions between the low levels of political affect across Latino populations and the reality of a marginally distinct issue agenda will remain. As more elected national Hispanic leaders emerge, however, Latinos will have a clearer image of what Latino politics is and leaders who can shape that agenda in the public eye. That should speed the process of building a Latino politics that has unfolded over the past 30 years.

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  55. Verba S, Schlozman KL, Brady HE. Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1995.
  56. Wattenberg MP. Where have all the voters gone? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2002.
  57. Wolfinger RE, Rosenstone S. Who votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 1980.

In this chapter, I use the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” interchangeably to refer to individuals who trace their origin or ancestry to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America or the Caribbean. I should note that the outset that most Latino politics (like politics in general) is local. At the local level, a single national-origin group usually dominates the local Latino population, so there is a great possibility of Latino politics being framed in national-origin terms. Increasingly, even at the local level, however, the ethnic dimension of this politics is discussed as Latino or Hispanic.

In the interests of academic disclosure, I should note that I worked as a staff member at NALEO for three years and as a consultant for an additional seven years. I am currently a research scholar at TRPI.

Certainly, some of the responsibilities for political socialization could have been shouldered by public education, as they were for the European immigrants of this era. The public education provided to Latinos in this era, particularly Latino immigrants, was quite poor and did not include resources for social or political incorporation (San Miguel, 1987).

In this model, we contrast the immigrant-settlement agenda with an earlier Latino political agenda focused on civil rights demands. We argue that increased immigration has undercut Latino support for demand making based on claims of past exclusion and remedial politics (the “civil rights agenda”) as this notion of past exclusion is not relevant to an increasing share of the Latino population.

Despite the steady increase in scholarly interest in Latino politics over the past 25 years, the data available for analysis of Latino political values, attitudes, and behaviors remain sparse. Governmental data sources available to scholars interested in nonpolitical questions about the status of Hispanic communities in the United States are of limited utility to scholars of politics because, for the most part, they do not ask questions about political values, attitudes, and behaviors. Scholars of Latino politics are also disadvantaged in that the major data sources on U.S. political behaviors, most notably the University of Michigan's American National Election Study, do not have a sufficient subsample of Latino citizens for separate analysis and often exclude Latino noncitizens entirely from their samples. As a result, empirical Latino political research must often rely on national surveys of Latinos that may not allow for direct comparison to non-Latino populations or on local or regional survey or polling data with relatively small samples that make it hard to compare across Latino national-origin groups or across regions. National data, for the most part, allow comparisons of the largest Latino national-origin groups (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans). They are weaker, however, on other cleavages in Latino communities, most notably immigrant generation.

The source of these data is the Current Population Survey (CPS) voter supplement. These data are based on self-reporting and consistently overestimate actual turnout. Hispanics overreport at a higher rate than non-Hispanics (Shaw, de la Garza, and Lee, 2000). Citizenship status is also self-reported. As a result, the denominator in calculations of voter turnout, citizen voting age adults, is also likely to be an overestimate.

The VRA, particularly the 1965 act, is often portrayed as an act to remove barriers. While this was certainly the primary focus of the legislation, a close reading of testimony in 1965, 1970, and 1975 shows that many in Congress also saw the act as having a related goal: to increase electoral participation among the covered minority populations (de la Garza and DeSipio, 1993).

Footnotes

1

In this chapter, I use the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” interchangeably to refer to individuals who trace their origin or ancestry to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America or the Caribbean. I should note that the outset that most Latino politics (like politics in general) is local. At the local level, a single national-origin group usually dominates the local Latino population, so there is a great possibility of Latino politics being framed in national-origin terms. Increasingly, even at the local level, however, the ethnic dimension of this politics is discussed as Latino or Hispanic.

2

In the interests of academic disclosure, I should note that I worked as a staff member at NALEO for three years and as a consultant for an additional seven years. I am currently a research scholar at TRPI.

3

Certainly, some of the responsibilities for political socialization could have been shouldered by public education, as they were for the European immigrants of this era. The public education provided to Latinos in this era, particularly Latino immigrants, was quite poor and did not include resources for social or political incorporation (San Miguel, 1987).

4

In this model, we contrast the immigrant-settlement agenda with an earlier Latino political agenda focused on civil rights demands. We argue that increased immigration has undercut Latino support for demand making based on claims of past exclusion and remedial politics (the “civil rights agenda”) as this notion of past exclusion is not relevant to an increasing share of the Latino population.

5

Despite the steady increase in scholarly interest in Latino politics over the past 25 years, the data available for analysis of Latino political values, attitudes, and behaviors remain sparse. Governmental data sources available to scholars interested in nonpolitical questions about the status of Hispanic communities in the United States are of limited utility to scholars of politics because, for the most part, they do not ask questions about political values, attitudes, and behaviors. Scholars of Latino politics are also disadvantaged in that the major data sources on U.S. political behaviors, most notably the University of Michigan's American National Election Study, do not have a sufficient subsample of Latino citizens for separate analysis and often exclude Latino noncitizens entirely from their samples. As a result, empirical Latino political research must often rely on national surveys of Latinos that may not allow for direct comparison to non-Latino populations or on local or regional survey or polling data with relatively small samples that make it hard to compare across Latino national-origin groups or across regions. National data, for the most part, allow comparisons of the largest Latino national-origin groups (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans). They are weaker, however, on other cleavages in Latino communities, most notably immigrant generation.

6

The source of these data is the Current Population Survey (CPS) voter supplement. These data are based on self-reporting and consistently overestimate actual turnout. Hispanics overreport at a higher rate than non-Hispanics (Shaw, de la Garza, and Lee, 2000). Citizenship status is also self-reported. As a result, the denominator in calculations of voter turnout, citizen voting age adults, is also likely to be an overestimate.

7

The VRA, particularly the 1965 act, is often portrayed as an act to remove barriers. While this was certainly the primary focus of the legislation, a close reading of testimony in 1965, 1970, and 1975 shows that many in Congress also saw the act as having a related goal: to increase electoral participation among the covered minority populations (de la Garza and DeSipio, 1993).

Copyright © 2006, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK19906
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