Book Review: 'Latino America: How Americas Most Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation' by Matt Barreto and Gary M. Segura
Review by Susan Grigsby
According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, the number of states in which Hispanic children make up 20 percent or more of the kindergarten class has increased from 8 percent in 2000, to 17 percent in 2012. The Hispanic population has jumped from 15 million to almost 54 million over the past 30 years, and now makes up 17 percent of the population. Latinos are now found far from the border states and the traditional cities where they've settled, like Miami, New York, and Chicago.
In Latino America, Barreto and Segura don't merely present a lot of data, they provide a lucid analysis of that data and a glimpse of what our shared future will look like, beginning with:
Sometime in April 2014, somewhere in a hospital in California, a Latino child was born who tipped the demographic scales of California’s new plurality. Latinos displaced non-Hispanic whites as the largest racial /ethnic group in the state . And so, 166 years after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought the Mexican province of Alta California into the United States, Latinos once again became the largest population in the state.
Surprised? Texas will make the same transition sometime before 2020, and Latinos have had a plurality in New Mexico for some time. Latinos are already over 17% of the population of the United States, and that number will grow toward a national plurality over the course of this century. The America that today’s infants will die in is going to look very different from the nation in which they were born. Oh, and by the way, more than half of today’s children under age five are nonwhite.
Using the term Latino throughout the book, the authors first introduce us to who makes up this group that is just beginning to see itself in a pan-ethnic manner. Traditionally, the Puerto Ricans, as American citizens, were found in New York and Chicago, Cubans in Miami and Mexican immigrants in the Southwest. Today, Latino also includes Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Dominicans, Hondurans, Colombians, and many others now settled in every state of the union.
More than 93 percent of Latinos under the age of 18 are citizens, and 73,000 of those are turning 18 every month. That is 73,000 new voters every month. And what is exciting is what the authors have to tell us about the progressive political viewpoints of this group.
Latinos are more liberal than non-Hispanic whites, believing that government should improve the lives of the poor, guarantee jobs, reduce inequality, increase educational spending, and increase environmental spending. That is a liberal agenda.
And while they believe in self-reliance, they believe more strongly that government should do more to solve problems: "a significant majority of Latinos express support for self-reliance, supermajorities of Latinos also reliably embrace a greater role for government. Latino Americans evidently see no contradiction in the two views."
A large majority of Latinos are Catholic, but do not want the church telling them how to vote. And most wish politicians would keep their religious views to themselves.
Social issues like abortion or marriage equality do not seem to drive their votes. In 2004, when the Bush campaign strongly pushed moral values, only 18 percent of Latinos said that moral values were their greatest concerns.
Latinos vote consistently as economic pragmatists—liberal pragmatists— who favor tax increases to balance spending cuts and generally prefer Democrats to steer the economy while blaming the GOP for economic ills.
Latino America looks at why this growing segment of the American population doesn't always turn out at election time—a sense of alienation, that their vote doesn't really change anything, as well as a lack of information combine to keep many at home on Election Day. These are in addition to the difficulties that any working segment of the population has in getting time off to go to the polls and stand in line waiting to vote.
Political campaigns have a lot to do with the lack of information. While 46 percent of non-Hispanic whites reported being contacted by a campaign, only 32.3 percent of Latinos reported such contact in a 2008 American National Election Studies survey. We are simply not asking them to vote in a manner that would resonate with them. Which is a damn shame, because in 2012 they voted 3-to-1 Democratic.
The authors use the example of California to show what can happen when the Latino voter is engaged. Back in 1994, California passed Proposition 187, strongly endorsed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, which required all local law enforcement officials to report undocumented immigrants to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It further cut services, including education, to unauthorized immigrants. Although mostly overturned by the federal courts, it was enough to change the state from red to blue.
California was not always a Democratic state; Republican governors included Ronald Reagan as well as Pete Wilson. But after Proposition 187 was passed, more and more of the growing Latino population registered and voted for Democrats: by 2012, the Democrats in California were winning 78 percent of the Latino vote. (Although the authors don't claim it, a large part of the success that the state has had in turning around its economy is due to the strong support that the Democratic Party has received from the Latino community.)
Republicans may have expected the disfavor of the Latinos, but it is doubtful that they expected the disapproval of the non-Hispanic whites who believed conservatives had gone too far and increasingly turned Democratic.
When Meg Whitman ran for governor against Jerry Brown in 2010, her choice of co-campaign manager may have cost her the election. A survey revealed that 80 percent of Hispanics were somewhat or very concerned with her naming Pete Wilson to that position. This was 16 years after Prop, 187 passed. Latinos, representing 18 percent of the electorate, gave Jerry Brown 86 percent of their votes.
The authors also point to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's re-election in 2012 to show the impact that Latino voters can have and how poorly political polling reflects the Latino vote. Going into the election, the polls showed Sharon Angle leading Reid by as much as 5 points.
Reid used his position to force a vote for the Dream Act in the Senate, while Angle ran a campaign noted for its rabid anti-immigration position. The result? Ninety percent of the Latino vote went to Reid, ensuring his re-election by almost 6 points.
While Latino voters care about the same issues that all Americans care about—the economy, education, jobs, the environment—the strongest motivator in getting this bloc to the polls is immigration. Nationwide, 67 percent of registered Latino voters know an undocumented immigrant, and of those, 51 percent say that the undocumented person is a family member.
Latino America: How America's Most Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation is a political junkie's dream source of information in the form of hard facts, numbers, and analysis. The authors do find a possible route for the Republican Party to regain a foothold in the Latino community, but from what we have seen of the Republican Party, it is doubtful that they would accept the advice. There is much that we could learn, as a party, from the information packed into this book.
According to Matt Barreto and Gary M. Segura:
First, Latino interests are best served if the data collection— and thus the claims made on the basis of the data— is indisputable. Scientific rigor in the pursuit of public opinion and community engagement is of no use if data are poorly collected. Second, we never say anything as pollsters that we do not believe is true as scholars. This principle has not always won us political friends, but we believe that our commitment to it has been the right thing for Latinos and for Latino Decisions.
To ensure the accuracy of what we say in our polling, we combine the finest current social scientific techniques with cultural competency so that our bilingual interview teams can ask the right questions in a manner that our community will understand, using the right format, question design, and sampling strategy.
Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here.