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Political Scientist Says Latinos Aren't Swing Vote
by MACARENA HERNANDEZ
October 27, 2000
PHOTO: Anthony Affigne
Early on political analysts called the growing U.S. Latino population this coming elections swing vote. But some political analysts say an increase in numbers alone will not guarantee Latinos political power.
"This was to be the year of the Latino in U.S. politics. This was the year that the Latino population was to flex its collective muscle and influence the direction of U.S. politics as we have already influenced cuisine, art, music, film and so on. It has not happened," political scientist Anthony Affigne told an audience at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he delivered a presentation titled "A New Century in Latino Politics: Finding Our Voice in Year 2000."
Citing from different studies and reports, Affinge, who is a professor at Providence College, said that although the Latino community is characterized as one of the largest in the country, voter participation in past elections has been low.
In 1996, of all registered Latino adults, only 44 percent voted compared to 61 percent voter turnout among whites. And unlike the rest of the population, the Latino community tends to be younger. The median age for a Latino is 26.1 compared to the national average of 35. Half of the Latino population is under 26 years old.
"This has a variety of implications for public policy, for education policy, the future of political development, the socialization and acculturation of Latino youth and the potential political power of the Latino population," said Affigne. "Each year the number of 18 year olds who come into the electorate, the percentage of 18-year-olds who are Latinos, will be growing."
In the next five to seven years, Latinos are predicted to reach 40 million and become the largest minority group in the United States. In about 40 or 50 years, minorities in this country will outnumber the number of whites with Latinos predicted to comprise 25 percent of the total population. Among Latinos, Affinge said the growth was due mostly to immigration but also to higher birth rates.
"Nothing that has happened in the last five years will reverse itself. If anything the trends will accelerate and the Latino population will become more important politically," said Affigne. "However, it is also true that the Latino population are disproportionately poor."
According to Affigne almost half of all Latinos live below or near poverty levels. U.S. Latinos are twice as likely to not have health insurance compared to anyone other group in the United States. About one third of Latinos do not complete high school and only 13 percent go on to receive a college degree. Lack of educational advancement may be attributed to the fact that most Latinos attend predominantly minority schools, which tend to be schools with less resources and lower graduation rates. Latino students are twice as likely to drop out than blacks and three times as likely than whites.
"This is a problem because we know that there is a strong relationship between education and political power, between education and economic power, and so on, " said Affigne. "The Latino population has a number of political interests that may or may not be addressed in the general political discussion."