Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hispanic Turnout: Estimates from Validated Voting Data

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hispanic Turnout: Estimates from Validated Voting Data

Article excerpt

This study is the first to test theories about the distinctiveness of Hispanic voting participation using validated voting data, which are necessary to assess Hispanic turnout relative to the turnout of other groups. The central issue is whether a Latino immigrant culture sustained by proximity to homelands makes Hispanic voters distinctive, or whether Hispanics vote at the same rate as others with the same social circumstances. The analyses show that in presidential contests, Hispanic citizens vote at the same rate as similarly situated Anglos and African-Americans. In midterm contests, Hispanic turnout is distinctively low and cannot be explained by the recency of immigration or weak participatory predispositions related to Latino political culture. The explanation may be that Latinos lack the political networks and political history that motivate Anglos and African-Americans to vote in low visibility races, or Latino political leaders prefer to mobilize voters in more competitive presidential or municipal elections.

Hispanics-a diverse collection of individuals of Latin American or other Spanish origin-rapidly are gaining a national political identity and becoming a larger U.S. political minority than African-Americans. Using validated voting data, this study examines the leading theories about Hispanic voting participation. These theories confront a basic question about Hispanic voting power: Is Latino turnout motivated by the same factors that explain the turnout of other groups, or do cultural factors make Hispanic electoral participation distinctive? Do Hispanics, who as a group tend to be younger and less well educated than non-Hispanics, vote at low rates due to their lack of socioeconomic resources (Buehler 1977; Wolfinger and Rosenstone 1980)? Or do special cultural characteristics-Spanish language, recent immigration, and continuing attachment to homelands-depress Latino propensities to vote (Calvo and Rosenstone 1989; MacManus and Cassel 1988; Uhlaner, Cain, and Kiewiet 1989)? Or is discrimination a factor (Rosenstone and Hansen 1993)? This study uses validated voting data because nonvoters who say they voted confound U.S. turnout studies involving ethnicity or race (Abramson and Claggett 1984, 1986, 1989, 1991; Bernstein, Chadha, and Montjoy 2001; Cassel 1998). Moreover, a recent three-state study finds false claims of voting high among Latinos (Shaw, de la Garza, and Lee 2000).1

PREVIOUS STUDIES

The relevant studies for the question we address control for socioeconomic status (SES) and include Anglos and African-Americans for comparison. Except the Rosenstone and Hansen (1993) test of midterm voting, all-including those with local samples-examine turnout in presidential contests. The earliest research on Hispanic turnout came from state and local studies of MexicanAmericans, the largest Hispanic nationality group.2 Antunes and Gaitz (1975) found that Mexican-Americans vote less than Anglos or blacks, in a study in Houston. Uhlaner, Cain, and Kiewiet (1989) report compatible findings, from a study in California. With controls for Spanish language use and length of U.S. residence, Hispanics vote at the same rate as others vote, suggesting Hispanic turnout would be lower were cultural factors not controlled. However, in a Michigan study, Buehler (1977) argued against cultural theories upon finding that native-born Mexican-Americans vote at the same rate as others. Leighley and Vedlitz (1999) show that with controls for cultural factors, Hispanics in Texas vote at the same rate as others; but support for the Hispanic distinctiveness hypothesis is ambiguous because the analysis includes non-citizens.

Two national studies test Hispanic turnout using Current Population Survey (CPS) data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.3 Wolfinger and Rosenstone (1980) found that Mexican-Americans voted at the same rate as others; but Puerto Ricans, the second largest Hispanic nationality group, voted less. …

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