Deciding factors: Hispanic voter

October 26, 2012

Despite America’s ever-growing Latino population, a low registration from the group may curtail its influence on American elections.

In fact, Hispanic actor Wilmer Valderrama said 50 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are registered to vote, but only 39 percent of Latinos of that age group are registered.

In response to these statistics, volunteers, celebrities and organizations from across the country collaborated to host the first National Voter Registration Day. Valderrama and actress Rosario Dawson visited NYU on Sept. 25 to raise awareness for the event and promote political activity among Hispanic students.

“[The Hispanic vote] is going be the deciding vote,” Valderrama said. “They have the power to mold, shape and elect our government heroes.”

As the chairwoman of VotoLatino, Dawson launched National Voter Registration Day to educate young Hispanics and encourage them to be more involved in the political process. She said voting in this upcoming election would give Latinos the opportunity to make their mark on history.

“When people vote for the first time, it’s their first [moment of] activism. You feel the connection to your history,” Dawson said. “When you do it collectively, that’s when you really show the world what you’re really about.”

The economy is one of the enormous concerns for Latinos, as they were especially affected by the recession. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that approximately 2.3 million Hispanics in the United States are unemployed, and many are unable to pay for health insurance. Consequently, 53 percent of Hispanics ranked the economy as their top issue and immigration followed at 40 percent, according to Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, senior analyst for Latino Decisions. She also said Latinos are experiencing serious losses.

“Latinos aren’t just losing their jobs and health care, they’re losing their middle class,” she said. “Rich Latinos are getting richer and poor Latinos are getting poorer.”

Experts say much of the Hispanic vote depends on the candidate who will reshape the economy and provide more employment opportunities.

Racial politics expert and associate professor of media, culture and communication Charlton McIlwain said Romney and Obama have equally been courting Hispanics, but Obama has been more successful.

“Obama has a leg up given his more recent policy of easing immigration restrictions, while Romney favors a much more restrictive policy,” McIlwain said. “[Romney] says [Hispanics] are worse off economically than when Obama first took office … But that promise is much less tangible than Obama’s concrete actions.”

Maria Teresa Kumar, president of VotoLatino said as the Latino community has grown more powerful, politicians have begun to take interest. However, he said this does not mean Latinos can be pandered.

“You can’t put us in boxes and separate our possibilities,” Kumar said. “Both parties are trying to understand this community, but they have yet to understand that we are Americans.”

A version of this article appeared in the Friday, Oct. 26 print edition. Kayana Jean-Phillipe is a deputy city/state editor. Email her at kjeanphillipe@nyunews.com. 

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