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Hispanic Link News Service

There Is No Magic Bullet For Courting Latinos


August 20, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

There are 31.3 million Hispanics living in this country, according to projections from the 2000 Census -- it's currently the fastest-growing population in the United States. It makes sense for political strategists to turn their attention this year to wooing the Latino vote.

After years of being ignored, Latinos are sensing that they finally count in the political discourse of the country. The campaigns of presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush are making strong attempts to win Latinos' attention and favor.

So what will it take to win Latinos' hearts -- and votes -- in November?

Will speeches carefully reworked into Spanish convince Hispanics that one presidential candidate ``speaks their language''¿

Will the one who includes Hispanic family members in a campaign commercial attract Latinos?

In this political season, we're assured by recent poll findings that there is no single formula.

This summer, a consortium of public radio and television broadcasters collaborated to fund a poll of 1,000 Latinos in Texas, New York, Illinois, California and Florida. Conducted between June 22 and July 15 by the bilingual market research firm Rincon and Associates, the poll is unique in that it surveyed not only U.S. natives, but foreign-born Latinos whose immigration is driving population growth.

Our aim: to ascertain what Latinos think about the state of the country, how Latinos feel they're faring, how issues resonate with Hispanics and how connected Latinos feel to the political process.

What Latinos want from their government and from their leaders is what the rest of the electorate wants: to realize the American dream. Seventy percent of the poll respondents are immigrants, and it is their view of opportunities in this country that gives great shading to Latinos' political behavior. If candidates are making different assumptions, they will deny themselves the opportunity to respond to an incredible breadth and depth of opinion -- and a population that will respond to issues.

For starters, we found that Latinos are politically engaged. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed believe that whoever is elected president matters in their daily lives; 87 percent believe their vote makes a difference in this country. And, while the survey indicated that 50 percent of respondents are not registered to vote, presenting a huge political challenge, nearly 60 percent of those registered or likely to register said they expect to vote this fall.

The poll's findings on party identification -- 41 percent think of themselves as Democrats, 13.4 percent as Republican, 21.2 percent as Independent -- may seem to reinforce traditional assumptions about Latinos. However, while there is a greater identification with the Democratic Party among Latinos, they also describe themselves as politically conservative.

In terms of issues:

  • Respondents identified the top five problems facing Latinos as racism and discrimination; education; jobs and employment; immigration; and English-language barriers.
  • When asked for their opinion on legislative priorities, respondents favored stronger gun control laws, stronger penalties for committing hate crimes, health insurance for those who cannot afford it, bilingual education and increased use of standardized tests to determine which students graduate from high school. They also opposed the death penalty and English-only laws that prohibit the use of other languages in government communications.
  • Those polled were positive about the direction of the U.S. economy and believe their own financial conditions have improved over the past four years.
  • Respondents asserted that immigration is good for the U.S. economy but had mixed feelings about whether immigration levels should increase. Nearly 40 percent felt levels should increase, while 27.5 percent felt levels should not change, and 21.7 percent felt immigration should decrease. At the same time, respondents indicated they felt immigration at times may play a role in heightening racial tension.

What campaign strategies resonate most with Latinos? Signing legislation that benefits Latinos; emphasizing family values, explaining positions on key issues impacting U.S. Latinos, and improving relations with Latin American countries.

The least effective: using Latino family members to communicate understanding of Latino problems.

The Public Broadcasting Latino Poll 2000 tells us once again that immigrants and natives alike believe that for a strong future, it is critical to participate in the democratic process.

For candidates, for parties, for journalists and for Latinos, this survey speaks volumes about how we as a nation must learn more about Hispanics if we are to serve them, to derive the most from their potential and, yes, to court them.

And Latinos are ready to be courted.

Yolette García is assistant station manager and news director for KERA 90.1, the public radio affiliate in North Texas.

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