Last week I was part of a very dynamic Twitter party around the Latino vote. Ran by the Latism organization under the #liberatuvoz (“free your voice”) hashtag. The event was part of an initiative to increase Latinos’ participation in the upcoming presidential election.
The media has been extensively covering the importance that Latinos will play in deciding the next election. Organizations like Latism and the Ya Es Hora (“it’s about time”) coalition are helping empower Latinos to play a more active role and vote. Latinos might play a critical role in choosing the new American president, but in order for that to happen, there’s still a long way to go to increase civic engagement and participation.
The Latino Vote: Opportunity or Gap?
Every month 50,000 Hispanics turn 18, showing the importance of Latino youth. In some states Latinos make up a significant part of the population. Latinos represent 37.9 percent of total voters in New Mexico, 25.5 percent in California, 14.2 percent in Nevada, and 13.1 percent in Colorado. Yet, when it comes to voting there’s a huge gap. In the 2008 election, out of 19.5 million Latinos eligible to vote, only 9.7 million voted. As you can see in the graph below, there’s an important gap. There are three opportunities to increase Latino voters:
- To encourage participation among all Latinos
- To increase the registrations among those eligible
- To reduce the gap between the Latino 18+ population and those that are eligible
Non-Hispanic whites who are registered to vote are only slightly more likely to cast a vote than registered Latinos; however, the real opportunity at hand is to convert 40 percent of Latino citizens into registered voters – for the 2008 election, that was nearly 9.7 million Latinos.
Why Aren’t Latinos Voting?
The most obvious answer is lack of information. Not understanding how the system works and the fear to take time off of work appear on top of the list.
Yet, when reviewing other reasons (legal residents that haven’t become U.S. citizens or feeling that one’s vote doesn’t count) it seems that one of the most important factors is that Latinos don’t care. And I’m not saying it in a negative way; it’s simply that if they don’t believe that their vote will impact their everyday life, why care to vote or to get the citizenship?
I identified three areas that need to be addressed in order to effectively impact Latino behavior when it comes to casting their vote as you can see below.
- The System:
- Challenge: lack of understanding how the system works
- Current mindset:
- Latinos don’t clearly understand the process
- There’s confusion on how to vote
- Lack of clarity on what documentations are needed to register
- Disinformation when it comes to new laws/regulations
- Becoming a citizen is perceived as too expensive (note: there’s a fee waiver for those with low income: I-912)
- Opportunity: education – help them navigate the system
- Challenge: skepticism about voting having an impact on their lives
- Current mindset:
- General belief that their vote doesn’t count
- Poor experience in Latin America when it comes to politics
- Feeling that candidates only reach out to them during election time
- Low sense of civic duty
- Opportunity: motivate them to participate; show how taking action can impact their present and their children’s future
- Challenge: Latinos don’t feel represented as an ethnic group when it comes to politics
- Current mindset:
- Think that they have no representation
- Feel sensitive of what’s being said about them
- They are not monolithic but need a collective voice
- Latinos pay close attention to how the news media covers political events related to Latinos
- Opportunity: leverage the sense of belonging to the community and peer-to-peer influence
Moving Beyond Information
Candidates and parties need to make a strong effort to engage Latinos. They need to understand that educating Latinos is important but only the first step. There’s room for a true leader who can inspire Latinos to take a more active civic role as well as community support.
Political participation needs to be encouraged at home, school, and in the community in general. Family and friends play a critical role in encouraging other family and friends to vote. Organizations need to consider this as part of their outreach strategy.
Here are some of the ideas that were shared during the Latism Twitter party:
- Voto trucks – like food trucks, use Twitter
- Engage with celebs – “trae la familia” campaign
- Voting empanada/tamale stands outside markets like Girl Scouts
- Leverage technology: for Foursquare users, Univision will have a list of locations with events and resources for voter registration
- Digital and non-digital, neighborhood drives (confront ID issues, help with transportation, etc.)
- Educate in an engaging way (i.e., voto Latino mini telenovelas)
- Provide content/platform for conversation:
- Real Latinos sharing their experiences with voting and how it impacts their lives
- Special content focusing on Latino issues; candidates can talk on issues
- Sponsor simulated voting in high schools
- Bring registration to the voters so they don’t have to seek it out (get permission to do voter registration at bus/train stations)
Candidates need to move beyond information. Engaging Latino voters requires a long-term strategy. Besides the Latino vote, politicians, parties, and organizations could use some marketing help, too.