Awash in the Mainstream: Latino Politics in the 1996 Elections

By Rodolfo O. de la Garza; Louis DeSipio | Go to book overview

This presents a dilemma for Latino and non-Latino political leaders. The obstacles faced by a politically marginalized population like Illinois Latinos require that high levels of effort be dedicated to registration, electoral outreach, get-out-the-vote, and mobilization. Yet the imperatives of election cycles mandate that resources (financial and human) be used only where they are needed most. Thus marginalized electorates can quite possibly experience several election cycles in a row in which their votes are not solicited and they are not trained to participate. Leaders, whatever their personal attitudes toward Latinos, may neglect the needs of Latino voters and nonvoters for perfectly rational reasons.

If this is the case, the dilemma actually becomes one for the society as a whole. After several low-intensity election cycles in a row, it may become impossible to socialize nonvoters and irregular voters into regular participation. Repeated low-saliency races, then, like the statewide campaigns in Illinois in 1996, may create a generation of nonvoters. If this is the case, Latinos will pay a particular price. For the demographic reasons identified above, Latino U.S. citizens are already more likely to be nonvoters than are white and black populations. Each year, though, they have a higher share of the population entering voting age and a higher share of older adults becoming citizens through naturalization. Much more, then, than other populations, Latinos need ongoing and intense voter socialization efforts. Low-intensity races like 1996, especially when they follow other low-intensity races, have a more enduring impact in communities without a history of regular voting at moderate and high levels. Thus, even if the candidates that Latinos supported won the various Illinois elections, 1996 may represent a long-term defeat.


Notes
1
I derive these figures from the 1990 Census of Population, which undercounted Latinos by between 4.2 and 7.3 percent. This undercount was not distributed evenly across Latino subpopulations.
2
In terms of his service in Washington, Simon was broadly supportive of the needs and interests of Latino communities. His service on the Judiciary Committee and the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration made him a key player on issues of concern to Latino organizations, and his office was frequently helpful to these organizations. Interestingly, these activities were not those that Simon took the most pride in during his service. Instead, he looked to involvement in humanitarian issues, particularly those relating to Africa. His personal and committee staff regularly included Latinos.
3
The LNPS is nationally representative of the three largest Latino populations and was not designed to be representative of Latino populations in any single state. The small sample size of LNPS citizen respondents in Illinois (n = 57) suggests that caution should be used in interpreting these data.

-208-

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