Latino Voters Feel Ignored by Republicans and Democrats

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That feeling often leads to voter apathy, something outreach organizations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to overcome by convincing Latinos that their votes, particularly in state and local elections, can translate into new and different policies.

According to Matt Barreto, co-founder of the political opinion research firm Latino Decisions, "ethnic issues" can be key factor in mobilizing Latinos, even if they are not named as the most important issues. For example, the economy and job creation have consistently been named the most important campaign issue by Latino voters, but it's not necessarily what will make them turn out at polls. That trigger is more likely to be, for example, immigration.

"They are personal issues, and very meaningful," Barreto said, citing California's Proposition 187 in 1994 as evidence that a hot-button issue (in that case it was a controversial state-run citizenship screening system that was eventually shot down in court) can motivate those on the fence about voting to head for the polls.

"The biggest reason people don't vote is they think there's no difference between the parties and their vote won't matter," Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, said. "But this is an election where there are such stark policy differences it's going to pull in people because they will understand that the stakes are very important, especially after [Rep. Paul] Ryan joined the Republican ticket."

According to Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for the Hispanic advocacy organization National Council of La Raza, many Latinos vote for with their community interests in mind.

"The last election, in 2010, we saw a plurality who said they were more motivated to take a stand for their community rather than the candidate they voted for," Martinez-De-Castro said. "That may be a motivator given the anti-Latino environment we're experiencing. So people are making the connection about the need to grow political over the long-term."

Barreto said the threat of something can lead people to vote, such as the threat of Medicare cuts, or cuts to Social Security.

West agrees, and says he expects a big turnout among Latino voters in November.
"Latinos have lots of reasons [to vote this election]," West said. "Immigration policy, the state of the economy, possible changes in the federal budgetary policy -- all those issues have a dramatic consequence for Latinos, so expect big turnout."

Whether Latinos vote depends on whether they are asked to vote, he said, and if the candidates are debating issues they care about --  jobs, healthcare, and immigration.
"I think Obama's campaign has been pretty skilled at ensuring immigration is part of the debate," Prof. Louis DeSipio, a Latino voting expert at UC Irvine, said, "and Obama's immigration plan is something Latinos want to hear."

The “Registration Gap”

Latino voter outreach is a traditionally tough task for Latino advocacy groups. Eligible voters, especially immigrants, who have never participated sometimes hold cultural beliefs that discourage voting.

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