Over the past week the Huffington Post ran two articles about Hispanic voters and their thoughts and feelings leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election. It is widely publicized that the Hispanic population in the United States is growing rapidly and could possibly double by 2050. Therefore, one might believe it reasonable to assume that more Hispanics are voting and the Hispanic voting bloc is making an increasing impact at the polls. Unfortunately, this is not, yet, the case.
The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that while the Hispanic population in the United States has grown steadily in the last decade, only 42.7 percent of Hispanics are eligible voters. Immigration (approximately one-fifth of Hispanics are not citizens) and the fact that a large segment of the Hispanic population is under the legal voting age are contributing factors. Furthermore, only about 60 percent of Hispanic citizen adults are registered to vote, which lags behind whites at 74 percent and African Americans at 70 percent.
The undocumented status of some Hispanics somewhat affects the impact of Hispanic voters, but the low level of registration among eligible voters needs to improve; not only so that they benefit from exercising their right to vote for candidates and issues important to them, but so that our society accurately reflects the wishes of its citizens. Sadly, I think that one of the main factors keeping eligible Hispanic voters away from the polls is a feeling of disconnection from the American political system. Candidates from both sides of the aisle make promises to potential voters, but their rate of follow-through is inconsistent at best. Such voter apathy begets a vicious cycle. The apathetic voter does not participate, does not have their voice heard, (probably) does not see the changes they want, feels marginalized, and then chooses not to participate because they feel disconnected. This cycle can also potentially pass down through generations. Hispanic voters need to avoid such a travesty, and the United States’ political system and its participants ought to help them to do so. Educating this voting bloc on the benefits of registering to vote and casting a ballot will foster inclusion and, eventually, increase electoral participation. The political parties that make a sustained effort to reach out to Hispanic voters would be making a sound investment in their future. Doing so this year may even reap immediate benefits.
In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama dominated the Hispanic vote after promising reforms supported by Hispanic voters. At the center of the Obama campaign’s message to Hispanics was a promise for comprehensive immigration reform. It is now 2012, and not only has Obama failed to deliver, he set a record for deportations this past year. A fledgling economy that according to the Pew Hispanic Center has hit Hispanics especially hard—unemployment sits at 11.4 percent for Hispanics, compared to 8.5 percent for the United States as a whole. It is no wonder that this voting bloc feels marginalized.
Since it seems that the overwhelming Hispanic support for the Obama agenda has tapered off, the Hispanic vote has been a hot topic with election forecasters and political commentators for its immediate and long-term implications. While I believe that the Hispanic vote will make a substantial impact in this election, it stands to make a far larger imprint on future elections. It would behoove our political parties, politicians, and, most importantly, our transforming American society to engage this key voting demographic and remind all of us that in America your vote matters and your voice can be heard.