Why Won’t the Hispanic Vote Matter for Many Senators?

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Immigration reform has been a major topic of discussion for years now, albeit one that gains and loses momentum depending on the presence of other legislative distractions, current events that re-spark the conversation, and public outcry waxing and waning. However, there has been one message that’s continually been brought to the forefront as a warning to politicians: A fair and measured approach to reform is going to be necessary and harsh rhetoric regarding illegal immigrants could ultimately result in backlash from a steadily growing Hispanic population of voters. Elected officials have either been listening to these warnings, or perhaps their squeaky cricket consciences, because there’s been a fair amount of more gentle rhetoric, even if it’s packed with anti-amnesty emphasis.

“This is an American issue. So, I expect this party to come together on it. And I’m going to continue driving it,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), according to the Hill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke with a similarly forceful tone to appeal to Republicans, and a touch of immigrant-friendly sentiment — possibly to cover other demographics with ears peeled. “Our legal system is broken, our border isn’t secure, and we’ve got the problem of those who are here without documents. It needs to be fixed,” Boehner said. “We’re a nation of immigrants. The sooner we do it, the better off the country would be.”

This is where data from Pew Research Center comes in with rather unfortunate implications for those hoping a rise in Hispanic voters will keep Republicans from going too far to the right, and might make them more sympathetic on immigration policy when it comes time to negotiate. According to a study released October 16 on “Latino Voters and the 2014 Midterm Election,” there is actually very little chance that Hispanic voters (Hispanic and Latino terminology was used interchangeably throughout the report and here — though the regional definitions do differ when looking at each term specifically) will have any major influence on those races that will decide the majority in the Senate.

What warnings got right and wrong

According to the study, liberal warnings get one things right: There are a record number of Latinos who are able to vote, should they so chose — 25.2 million up nearly 4 million since 2010. What it gets wrong though is the likelihood of voter turnout within that demographic, and the geographic locations and subsequent electoral influence the Hispanic population has on important deciding races for 2014. While there is actually a rather large percentage of Latinos eligible to vote in key races in the House of Representatives (13.6%), only 4.7% are eligible to vote for key senate races, with a total of 10.7%.

The only key Senate states that break 5% for Latino voters are Colorado and Kansas, with 14.2% and 6% respectively. Of course, this doesn’t mean that certain states and certain members of Congress can’t be significantly impacted by Latino voters, in particular members of the House of Representatives. So specific politicians absolutely should be keeping an eye on their votership, especially given how the population of the United States will continue to change and grow.

The report also notes that while the number of Latino voters has increased, and subsequently the number of voters has also increased, voter turn out as a percentage of the eligible population has actually gone down since 1986, and when compared to other racial demographics, voter participation is considerably lower. Voter turnout for white voters has dropped slightly from 1986 (50.7%) to 48.6% in 2010. For black voters, results were comparable, from 45.6% in 1986 to 44% in 2010, and for Asian voters numbers available between 1990 and 2010 showed a significant drop from 40.2% to 31%. Hispanic voters saw a drop from the lowest of the four, at 38% in 1986, to 31.2% in 2010.

Why is turnout poor?

Given the evidence from Pew Research that Hispanic voters don’t tend to show up to the polls, the question we’re left with is why. Dr. Gabriela Lemus, president of Progressive Congress Action Fund wrote on the topic for The Huffington Post. “We all know that the Latino community is incredibly frustrated with the Republican leadership in the House, but also with the President,” she wrote, “They’re angry and they’re not sure what their best strategic response should be.”

If uncertainty and disillusionment is the problem, it would be an understandable one given the entire United State’s population currently has very low approval of both executive and legislative branches of government. The whole country is a bit disillusioned, and given the failure to make progress on immigration and other issues Hispanic voters and voters across racial categories care about, it’s understandable if Hispanic voters fail to see an answer in the ballot box.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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