Hispanic Diversity Makes for Unique Voting Bloc
This story was reported for the “Why Bother” series in collaboration with KLRU and The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. Find more at whybothertexas.org
Almost two out of every five Texans are Hispanic. But that’s not so at the voting booth, where the number is closer to one of five.
For our continuing series looking at causes and solutions to low voter turnout, KUT’s Joy Diaz looks at the unique situations of Hispanics – a very diverse, dynamic and fragmented voting bloc.
The diversity of the Hispanic community is evident in its history. Hispanics in the U.S. can be of African, European, Asian, Arabic and American decent. Peck Young leads the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies. He says this diversity is what makes the Hispanic voting bloc unique.
“The Hispanic community is the youngest of the major voting bloc. They have a lot of children. So you have to look at citizen voting age population,” Young says. “And I pointed out ‘citizens’ because we are a Southern state, we have the longest border with Mexico and there is a significant amount of people who don’t have the ability to register to vote because they are not citizens.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that more than half of the country’s Hispanic population cannot vote because they are either too young or not citizens. In Texas, we have a mixed bag. Some Hispanics in the state have been citizens for generations. Others can’t become citizens because they don’t have the right documentation. And still others are in the process of actively attaining that citizenship.
At a recent naturalization ceremony in Austin, close to 1,000 people became full-fledged Americans. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo remembers his naturalization ceremony. He was 20 years old. Although he grew up as an American, Acevedo and his family fled from Cuba when he was a child.
“I’ll never forget the tears coming down my face – feeling in my heart what [a] gift I had just received,” Acevedo says. “The first thing I did when I walked out was look for that voter registration card. I registered to vote. My father – may he rest in peace – did the same thing. And we’ve been voting ever since.”
Many candidates wish all Hispanics had the voting conviction and tradition of Acevedo, but that’s not the case. In 2010, only 13 percent of registered Hispanic voters went to the polls in Travis County – a much lower percentage than for blacks or whites. Political scientist Sylvia Manzano says Hispanics don’t see eye to eye on everything, but there are issues that do get them out to the polls in large numbers.
“You’ll see agreement among Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, U.S. born, foreign born, Republicans [and] Democrats –they oppose Arizona SB-1070, favor the DREAM Act [and] oppose official English,” Manzano says. “So they might say, ‘I identify as a Republican or a Democrat or Independent.’ But when it actually comes to those issues that trigger ethnic identity, we see a lot of policy agreement.”
The numbers are clear: Almost half of all Hispanics who can vote live in California and Texas. But they’re not all registered. The Center for American Progress estimates that if all the Hispanics who can vote in Texas registered, it would increase voter rolls by at least 2 million.