NPR's Latino USA Uncovers 4 Important Truths About The Latino Vote

On the November 6 edition of NPR and the Futuro Media Group's Latino USA, host Maria Hinojosa highlighted four important facts about the Latino vote that media and pundits often miss. Hinojosa and several show producers debunked the myth that Latinos are a monolithic voting bloc, explained how the “representation gap” affects Latinos more than “almost any other group,” highlighted the significant demographic overlap between millennial and Latino voters and the issues that motivate them to vote, and noted that the impact of the Hispanic vote could be even greater than previously thought due to low naturalization rates among certain groups of Latinos legally living in the U.S.

1. The Latino Vote Is Complex, Not Monolithic

Hinojosa and producer Fernanda Echavarri explained that although “politicians and pundits talk about” the Latino vote “as if it were one vote, for one party, or one issue,” “that is not true.” The media have a long track record of portraying the Latino vote as mostly concerned with the single issue of immigration, but Echavarri explained that treating the Latino vote as a monolith has alienating effects. Recent polls have shown that Latino voters identify education, the economy, and health care as issues they are most concerned with:

MARIA HINOJOSA: What is the Latino vote? Politicians and pundits talk about it as if it were one vote, for one party, or one issue. But here at Latino USA, we know that is not true. Our producer Fernanda Echavarri spoke with a family who really exemplifies that.

FERNANDA ECHAVARRI: That's right. I came across the Canino-Vasquez family who have very different political beliefs, and that leads to some lively conversations at the dinner table.


HINOJOSA: I mean, even my own family, I remember my young brother, radical, young, high school student, arguing with my father, the American citizen, medical doctor, very serious -- I mean, it happened and yes, and then we'd have dinner and you would be ok.

ECHAVARRI: And actually, that happens more than we think across the United States in Latino families, and for the Canino-Vasquez family. And it really bothers Rose and Ana, when politicians and some in the media try to address Latinos and the Latino vote as if they were all the same.

ROSE CANINO: Ultimately, the effect is an alienating one. And I think if they realized how alienating and how much of a turn-off that sort of one-size-fits-all perspective is. If they realized that, I think they might make a different decision about how they talk about stuff.

ANA CANINO-FLUIT: When people say that the Latino vote is monolithic or it's one issue, it erases the idea that we all come from different nations and different countries of origin who have different issues.

2. The Representation Gap Affects Latinos “More Than Almost Any Other Group”

Hinojosa also explained how “the representation gap,” or the disproportion between the Latino share of the population and the percentage of Latinos in public office, affects Latinos “more than almost any other group.” Latinos make up 17 percent of the nation's population, but just one percent of elected officials. Latino USA producer Marlon Bishop pointed to Pasco, Washington, a city with a Latino majority where “the representation gap is particularly dramatic,” likely due to low Latino voter participation. According to Bishop, “even though Latinos are a majority in Pasco, it's mostly white people who are doing the voting.” The Washington Post has pointed out that “addressing the policy needs” of the growing Hispanic demographic “will be a challenge if minority representation in state and local legislatures continues to fall short”:

HINOJOSA: By the numbers, there are 26 million Latinos elegible to vote in the United States, and that keeps growing, but only about half of them actually show up to vote on election day. Low turnout is also part of the reason why you don't see a lot of Latinos in public office. Latinos make up 17 percent of the population of the country but only one percent of its elected officials. Now this is called the representation gap. And, get this, it affects Latinos more than almost any other group. And actually, in some counties with a majority Latino population, there isn't a single Latino representative. Latino USA producer Marlon Bishop is going to take us now to one place where the representation gap is particularly dramatic: Pasco, Washington.


MARLON BISHOP: About 30 percent of Pasco's Latino community is believed to be undocumented and cannot vote. But for the Latinos in Pasco who are citizens, voter participation is really low. So even though Latinos are a majority in Pasco, it's mostly white people who are doing the voting.

3. There's A Significant Demographic Overlap Between Millennial And Latino Voters

Hinojosa, Echavarri, and producer Antonia Cereijido explained that a significant portion of the millennial vote is Latino (about 20 percent), but that “a lot of them aren't getting to the polls,” -- a phenomenon they say is likely caused by a shortage of information. Noting that the goal “is to get this fast growing population involved in the voting process,” Echavarri turned to Voto Latino president María Teresa Kumar to explain that millennial Latinos “are much more drawn to issues than to candidates.” Kumar also pointed out that, because Latinas are more politically involved than their male peers, reproductive health rights and the wage gap, which is larger for Latinas, are issues that will likely drive them out to the polls (emphasis added):

HINOJOSA: If there's another voting demographic talked about as much as Latinos, it's millennials. Of course, these two demographics overlap. A major chunk of potential Latino voters are millennials. But a lot of them aren't getting to the polls. Two of our millennial producers, Fernanda Echavarri and Antonia Cereijido, got together in our studio to talk about what Latino millennial voters care about and why they're not voting more.


ECHAVARRI: So it's really not that young Latinos do not care about the political issues but maybe it hasn't sort of been instilled in them. It hasn't been taught in their homes.

ANTONIA CEREIJIDO: Yeah, I mean it's very, very likely that their parents weren't voters. You know, if they're the child of immigrants, now they're first time voters, you need to know a lot of new information if you're going to do that. And that's the thing, these people really do care about very specific things in their lives and they want to be engaged.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR: If you look at the recent studies, millennial Latinos are much more drawn to issues than to candidates. And I think it's because they are more skeptical of the system, they're learning the system.

ECHAVARRI: So, what did María Teresa tell you were some of those issues that Latino millennials care so much about?

CEREIJIDO: There is one issue that makes Latinas in particular go out to the polls.

KUMAR: They are more likely to register and vote if, at the local level, there is a woman's right to choose on the ballot.

ECHAVARRI: Interesting!

CEREIJIDO: For some reason I was shocked by that because a lot of Latinos are Catholic and maybe I doubt their moms feel the same way.

KUMAR: One of my biggest irks is when people cite $.70 on the dollar that a woman makes and fail to realize that the largest generation behind us of Americans are young women who happen to be Latina who are earning $.55 on the dollar.

CEREIJIDO: Latina women have to work this much harder to make a certain amount of money. Having a kid and having more expenses, it makes sense that it's something they really care about.

ECHAVARRI: And what about men? Did María Teresa say anything about how young Latinos are driven to the polls? Any issues that are particularly important to them?

CEREIJIDO: Not really. In fact Latino millennial men are, they're just like less involved. 51 percent of Latinas who are registered to vote actually vote in comparison to only 39 percent of Latino men.

ECHAVARRI: So the idea here is to get this fast growing population involved in the voting process, and millennials are changing the demographics of even what the Latino vote has been in this country.

4. The Latino Vote Could Actually Have A Bigger Election Impact Than Previously Thought

Hinojosa explained that “the Latino vote could be bigger than we thought, maybe even sooner than we thought.” As Pew Research Center's Mark Hugo Lopez noted, there are five million foreign-born Latinos with legal residence in the U.S. who are eligible to become naturalized citizens have not taken that step. According to Lopez, that's “a potential pool of voters who could be pushed to citizenship and have an impact on Latino voter participation in the upcoming election”:

HINOJOSA: We've been talking throughout our show about Latino voters. There are 26 million Latinos who could be voting in the next presidential election. Now that's enough to tip the scales one way or another, and the candidates know it. But when we spoke with Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center we learned that that number could actually be even higher because of one particular group.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: There are five million Hispanic adults who are in the country legally -- they are foreign-born, they are immigrants -- but they haven't quite yet become U.S. citizens. There's a lot of effort to get this particular group to citizenship, so in other words, having them apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship, and ultimately, they would then be able to vote. Among Mexican immigrants who are in the country legally, only about 36 percent ultimately take that step to become a U.S. citizen, and that is the lowest naturalization rate of any of the Hispanic origin groups. Many of these immigrants have been in the United States for fifteen, maybe even twenty years, and still haven't quite taken that step. So that's really a potential pool of voters who could be pushed to citizenship and have an impact on Latino voter participation in the upcoming election.

HINOJOSA: That's right. The Latino vote could be bigger than we thought, maybe even sooner than we thought, if they just signed up for citizenship. Which is why it's important that politicians learn how complex a group we really are.

John F. Burnett contributed research to this blog.