Voting rate of Hispanics doesn't make dent at polls

Poor outreach by candidates, immigration focus are cited
2013-05-09T00:00:00Z Voting rate of Hispanics doesn't make dent at pollsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - Three years ago, in the wake of a new Arizona law aimed at those in the country illegally, tens of thousands converged on the Capitol with a message: Today we march, tomorrow we vote.

But new figures Wednesday from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest those efforts have had mixed results.

The percentage of Hispanics registered to vote for last year's election is virtually identical to what it was for the 2008 presidential race. And while the share of Hispanics who actually reported they voted was up from four years earlier, to 40.4 percent, it still lags far behind the 70.5 percent voting rate of non-Hispanic Anglos.

Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, which is involved in Hispanic voter-registration efforts, said she has not seen the data, but there may be reason to question the Census Bureau's classification of who is Latino.

Still, she conceded, getting people to go to the polls after they've registered has been a struggle. The key, Falcon said, is convincing them there is a reason to vote.

Pollster Earl de Berge of Behavior Research Center said the problem may be the message of those doing voter outreach.

"You can't expect voters to go to the polls if there's not something in it for them," he said. "Voters vote their perceived self-interest."

He said much of the emphasis for voter-registration drives in the Hispanic community has been built on two related issues - illegal immigration and state laws passed in response to that, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, with his "crime suppression sweeps" which seem aimed at Hispanics.

While certain young Latinos may be focused on those issues, de Berge said many who were born here are more interested in things like women's issues, abortion and economics.

"They leave a lot of Latinos out of the game who don't see themselves as immigrant-oriented," de Berge said. "It's not the only thing that drives them."

Falcon acknowledged anger toward Arpaio played a role in her organization's efforts. She said her group and others registered 35,000 people last year to vote in the sheriff's re-election campaign.

But she agreed resentment, by itself, does not get people to the polls, especially if other candidates are not reaching out to the Latino community.

Francisco Heredia, national field director for Mi Familia Vota, said while immigration is important, it cannot be the sole basis to get people to register or vote.

"Not everybody gravitates to a specific campaign or a specific issue," said Heredia.

But State Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the significance of immigration should not be underestimated.

"Everyone out here in my district knows someone - they're either in the family or a neighbor or someone who they go to church with - that is struggling with this broken immigration system," Gallardo said.

"That's what gets people fired up," about the political process, he said.

Other factor in the lower Hispanic voter turnout may be age.

The Hispanic community is heavily weighted with those who are young. And the Census Bureau reports that, in general, the younger someone is in Arizona, the less likely that person is to cast a ballot.

That gap between Hispanic and Anglo voting is not unique to Arizona. Nationally, the Latino turnout rate for last year's election was 48 percent, compared to more than 64 percent for non-Hispanic Anglos.

But Falcon and Heredia noted the gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters was much smaller in states where the presidential race was tighter, and where both parties spent money courting Hispanic voters.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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