Both U.S. presidential candidates have made a point of courting the Latino vote. Both have sent out their Latino/a surrogates to win voters over to their side, with President Obama deploying Eva Longoria, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and singer Marc Anthony, among others. Challenger Mitt Romney has used the U.S. Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, effectively and also spotlighted New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez as a featured speaker at the GOP convention.
These are wise actions on the part of these presidential candidates and generally on the part of politicians who care about their political parties’ survival in the coming decades. The latest U.S. census and plenty of media reporters have made it amply clear that the Latino demographic is growing, and Latinos are poised to become America’s dominant ethnic group, or the majority, by 2050, representing almost one-third (30%) of the entire U.S. population. As of July 2011, the Latino population in America stood at 52 million, the largest ethnic minority group in our country.
Putting These Numbers in Perspective
How do these numbers break down? According to the Institute for Latino Studies, based at Notre Dame University, 1 in 6 residents in the U.S. today is Latino. In addition, 20% of all school children, one-fourth of all American babies, one-third of Catholics nationwide, and half of American Catholics under the age of 30 are Latinos. The Latino presence in demographic categories across the spectrum is undeniable. In fact, the American Hispanic population is the second-largest in the entire world, behind Mexico.
In sheer voting number potential, Latinos could wield significant clout in the presidential election next month. Both candidates would benefit immensely from the political support at the polls by Latinos. But there’s a major problem.
American Latinos are notorious for NOT voting.
Why Don’t Latinos Vote?
By some estimates, only about 13% of eligible Latino voters in America actually go to the polls and cast their ballots. Throughout much of modern history, this has been the case, and several reasons are proffered for this.
• Latinos feel little investment in the political life of America, often feeling alienated and invisible. Language is a barrier for many, and lack of familiarity with political issues of the day serves as a deterrent for political engagement. Also, because many Latinos feel strong attachment to their Hispanic culture, the disconnect with American politics may be exacerbated.
• Latinos have not felt “invited to the table”: few Hispanics walk the halls of power in legislatures and board rooms across America, and especially in our national Congress, with the U.S. Senate being particularly devoid of Latinos/as. Few, if any, concerted efforts by power-brokers and other national leaders have been made to champion qualified Hispanic candidates, to groom them for leadership positions, and to provide them with resources to seek leadership roles, especially on the national stage. So, inevitably, Latinos often cannot identify with politicians in America.
• On voting day, Latinos might find themselves working long hours, or working second or third jobs to make financial ends meet, and thus cannot afford to take time off to vote.
• This current year, voter ID laws requiring photo identification will most likely dampen Latino voter turnout even more, since studies show that about 20% of eligible Latino voters have no photo ID, stemming from various reasons that include economic constraints.
There are undoubtedly other reasons for Latinos’ failure to vote, but the bottom line is this: Failure to vote nullifies the immense political influence Latinos could have in America, and the unfortunate conditions cited above will continue. The cycle repeats itself.
Standing Up to Be Heard
The age-old adage, “There is power in numbers,” is still true. By standing on the sidelines on election day, the Latino people are diluting their potential to affect change in America, the potential to change how business is done, the potential to participate in our nation’s governance and advocate for greater inclusiveness in our democracy.
Staying away accomplishes nothing whatsoever and is, in fact, an impediment to improvement that sympathetic candidates might successfully undertake, if only they had our support at the polls. In 2012, especially, not showing up to vote can result in the election of a presidential candidate who has vowed to obstruct and prevent various laws and policies that would be highly beneficial to all Americans and especially to Latinos:
• Effective Immigration Reform
• Equal Pay for Women
• Women’s Access to Birth Control and Freedom to Determine their Own Reproductive Decisions
• Everyone’s Access to Healthcare and Better Educational Opportunities
• Access to Higher Education and the Economic and Social Mobility Opportunities a College Degree Provides, and
• The Pursuit of World Peace rather than the Military Militancy that takes so many Latino/a lives each year.
We need to stop and think: How valuable are these freedoms to us as individuals, families, and communities? Are we willing to fight for them, to advocate for them, and to show up and cast a ballot for them?
Getting the Vote Out
Not just for 2012, but continuing into the future, Latinos must take their right to vote very seriously and insure that they not only show up at the polls and cast ballots, but that they likewise involve every eligible Latino voter they know in exercising this inalienable right.
Social media has emerged as a powerful tool in influencing public opinion in the political sphere. Oftentimes, the “mainstream media,” or the “MSM,” as it’s widely referred to by citizen journalists, pundits, and the mainstream media itself (the well-known and established TV and radio news stations, talk shows, newspapers, major blogs, magazines, and news reporters) fails to report on certain news, or fails to adequately discuss important aspects of news events.
The Importance of Social Media in Our Politics
Recently, for example, President Obama’s supporters across America were dismayed at the MSM’s failure to hold challenger Mitt Romney accountable for the many factual inaccuracies he used in the first presidential debate in October. Despite the contention of allegedly nonpartisan “fact checkers” that Romney had told 28 untruths in a 38-minute period of the debate, for example, most of the MSM touted Romney’s “victory” in the debate rather than spend time discussing and analyzing Romney’s factual inaccuracies, which Obama supporters viewed as deceiving the American people.
Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, helped to fill the MSM’s gap in reporting on this issue. Facebook and Twitter users lit up cyberspace with commentary, sharing of news links and blog links, and retweeting of information they deemed important enough to pass on. Engaging in Facebook “debates” via commentary with online “friends” and networkers has allowed Americans to weigh in on vital issues that the mainstream media might be ignoring or downplaying, for whatever reasons they perceive as justifiable.
Latinos must utilize social media to energize themselves and help mobilize other Latinos to vote. Discussing issues and the presidential candidates on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube, MySpace, and the countless other social media venues can help us all to become informed, to participate in discussions and debates among our friends and networkers, to feel like we’re engaged in our country’s future…because we will be engaged if we take these steps.
And education is ongoing. If we Latinos educate ourselves on the issues, such as by reading high-quality, reputable newspapers online or at the local library if we don’t subscribe to them, we will be more ready and willing to go to the polls, to raise our voices in expressing our preferences for whom we want to lead us, and for what policies we believe are in our best interests as well as in the best interests of our nation.
As the years pass and our demographic grows, as the need for our inclusion in our nation’s destiny becomes more and more pronounced, we cannot and should not be mere observers, mere silent people on the margins. We need to take our own particular, individual destiny in hand and urge everyone around us to do likewise. We become invested in our destiny when we take that small but crucial step as citizens: voting.