The Voto Latino, Towards a More Independent Movement ?

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By: Clemént Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

The Voto Latino will predictably be more important in the decades to come because of the naturalization process and the young population of Latino voters in the United States. This electorate, overwhelmingly labeled as Democrat in nature, progressively became the center of attention of every U.S. political party, and should not be considered as forever bonded to the Democratic Party. However the Republican Party for the time being prefer, to adopt a hostile orientation by trying to narrow this existing electorate by a number of questionable measures. The recent use of President Obama’s executive orders, in order to provide a protective status to nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants, will likely provide a decisive measure to convince Latinos to back the incumbent party in the the next elections. Grassroots organizations have seen these measures as too little and too late; the Latino movement will likely gain more independence and enhanced strength from these missteps.

The Awakening Giant

During a national TV broadcast on November 19, 2014, President Obama used an executive order to announce the future regularization of status of an estimated 4 million undocumented Latin American migrants.1 Similar measures have historically been implemented by former Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush Sr, but in this case it has led to extreme reactions by several Republican politicians.2

Conservative lawmakers, such as Kevin McCarthy Representative of California, and the leader of the House of Representatives, accused Obama of abusing his office.3 The Republican Mo Brooks, Representative of Alabama, also asked “to evaluate whether the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States,” actions associated with “a five-year jail penalty” if found guilty.4 Even before Obama’s speech, Republicans were divided about how to deal with the migration issue, fearing that any misplay might irreparably damage their standing with Latino voters. These executive measures by the President and the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) opposition illustrates the growing importance of the Latino community in the U.S., and the political contortions exerted around the Latino electorate.

The nature of the Latino vote is the focus of significant debate because it can be considered an “Awakened Giant”, with the number of Latino voters expected to nearly double by 2030.5 Currently, even though Latinos represent 17 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 10 per cent of voters, but naturalization and immigration could eventually drive a significant growth in numbers. The median age of Latinos in the United States is 27 years old, and 18 among native-born Latinos. Comparatively, the median age for the white non-Hispanic American citizens is of 42. In the coming decades, because of the generational replacement, we will see 40 percent growth in Latino voters from now to 2030. By that year more than 40 million Hispanics will be able to vote, compared to the 23.7 million now eligible.6

Latin American Immigration: A History of Diversity

In the 1970s, the undocumented population in the United States grew exponentially, with the legal population expanding considerably as well. The U.S. Latin American population was around 9.6 million, which constituted less than 5 per cent of the total population. By 1980, this Latin American population had grown at least 14.6 million, 22.4 million by 1990, and to 35.3 million by 2000.7

The Latin American native population has continued to grow over the past decade, at times exponentially, the Dominican population, for example, rose from 765,000 to 1.4 million between 2000 and 2010. The population from Guatemala during the same period grew from 372,000 to 1.4 million, Honduras from 218,000 to 633,000, Nicaragua from 178,000 to 348,000, and El Salvador from 655,000 to 1.6 million. In 2011, the pan-Latino population in the United States was estimated to be around 50 million people, the equivalent of 6 percent of the total U.S. population.8

Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, the Latin American population became more diverse and less homogeneous. The middle class migration from Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia, for example, was very different from the working class of Central America and the bourgeoisie from Cuba and Venezuela.9 These different waves of migration indicate that the Latin American population in the United States cannot be considered by any reason as homogeneous.

The growth in the Latin American native population growth has also led to a massive increase of Latinos in the government workforce.10 Latinos represented 6.5 percent of the total permanent federal civilian workforce in 2000 and 8.2 per cent in 2012.11 They are particularly well-positioned in several agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Social Security Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Treasury and the Justice Department. The agencies averaged 8.2 percent of such workers, but the DHS dominates Latino employment with 20.9 percent.12

A Heterogeneous Latino Vote?

During the U.S. midterm elections in November 2014, an impressive majority of Latino voters casting their ballots in favor of the Democrats. The nonprofit Think Progress reported after these midterm elections, that for every three Latinos, voting for the Democratic candidates, one voted for the Republicans, an overwhelming advantage for the Democrats. In every Presidential race since 1980, an impressive majority of Latinos voted for Democratic party candidates.13 Still, Latinos are not electorally labeled as staunch Democrats and this electorate tend to focus on key issues such as immigration.14

This pro-democratic bias of the Latino electorate cannot be taken for granted. For example, the Latino support for the Obama administration dropped in 2010-2011, after garnering favor of a 67 percent of Latino voters during the last presidential race, because his administration did not deliver the promised immigration reform and deported more than two million undocumented Latinos.15 President Obama known in the Latino community as the “deporter in chief,” highlighting his lack of commitment to regularizing the status of undocumented migrants in the country.16 The Obama administration also has the highest record of deportations of undocumented migrants in recent history, leading to widespread disillusionment of Latinos with the Democratic Party.17 Latinos are extremely aware of U.S. immigration policies: 53 percent of registered Latinos know someone in the United States who is currently undocumented and 25 percent know someone who has recently faced detention or deportation. Even if legally in the United States, these thematics are still very important for the growing Latino minority.18

Latino population tends to vote Democratic, they still have some conservative characteristics that should not be ignored by Republicans seeking to make inroads. The views of many Latino voters on issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion are particularly conservative.19 As highlighted by several human rights organizations and associations, Latinos are also very sensitive to public security concerns. They are dramatically overrepresented as crime victims, but also in courts, jails, and prisons. Research shows that Latinos receive, “harsher treatment in arrests, pretrial proceedings and sentencing than whites, even when charged with the same offenses.”20 As stated by the Californians for Safety and Justice, Latinos are “both more vulnerable to crime and disadvantaged in every phase of the criminal justice system. Latinos are poorly served by current policies and practices. ”21

The Latino electorate is also heterogeneous: Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans vote much more liberal than Cuban Americans, although Cuban Americans are more “pro-choice” and more supportive of governmentprovided health care than Mexican Americans. The analysis of the Latino vote is more complicated than what one would expect.22 The category “Latinos” draws a virtually homogeneous electorate without considering the heterogeneity of the Latino community.

Why do Latinos not vote?

The Latino electorate is also likely to be potentially more important than observed now, because of the current high level of voter abstention. In 2012, 23.7 million Latinos were eligible to vote but only 12.5 million actually cast ballots according to the Pew Research Center data.23 This level could be considerably improved. One of the reasons why the Latino does not reflect the large population of the Latinos community, is because of the cheap tactics of political parties, specifically by the Republican party. It would be relatively easy for some Republican candidates to make inroads with the Latino vote because of their socially conservative policies, but they prefer to use legal yet dubious practices in order to manipulate the results of elections that alienate minority groups.24 They constantly try to narrow the electoral base in order to get fewer people to vote, rather than develop a message that convinces the Latino indecisive electorate. Republicans use methods such as gerrymandering and voter suppression to steer Latinos away from the ballot.25

In the 2000 presidential race, thousands of Florida citizens, mostly African or Latino Americans, were forbidden to vote because of alleged criminal convictions, allowing George Bush to veritably steal the election.26 The U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General for Voting Rights, Pamela Karlan, stated after years of investigation that, “thousands of unquestionably eligible voters who showed up to cast ballots were denied the right to participate.”27 In 2012, just before the presidential election, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott allegedly withdrew 2,700 names from voter rolls, mostly Latino voters, because of claims that they might be non-citizens. These charges were proved to be false.28

In response to this so-called ex-felons problem, several Republican states enacted strict laws with the purpose of preventing impersonation fraud. However, there were only 31 verified incidents of such fraud and a number of reports proved that these rumors were unfounded.29 Between 2011 and 2012, 19 States passed 25 laws tightening the access to vote, and in 2013, 33 States introduced 72 bills.30 The limitation and suppression of same-day registrations also impacted the ability of minorities to vote.31

Redrawing District Boundaries

The law in the United States obligates every state to redraw district boundaries through a process called redistricting every 10 years. Governors use the census and demographic statistics to their advantage and redraw the district to best support their parties.32 As stated by the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, “though drawing districts along racial lines is illegal, drawing them along party lines has been deemed legitimate”.33 They stated that in Texas, the number of white voters decrease each year (52 percent in 2000, compared to 45 percent in 2010), but they control 70 percent of Congressional districts.34 In Georgia and Florida, some districts have been redrawn to manipulate the proportion of African American and Latino Americans, allowing Republican victories in key districts.35 However, this practice was banned in seven States, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington, that redistrict using independent commissions.36

This practice of gerrymandering lead to the creation of some districts with a highly concentrated number of Latinos at the congressional level.37 Despite this, none of these districts are seen as being competitive: the GOP expects to lose the concentrated Latino district and Democrats expect to win. This confidence is accompanied by a lack of investment in Latino voter outreach.38 If Democrats want Texas to resemble Colorado and Nevada, they must make similar investments in Latino outreach.39 Latino Texans are also less likely to register to vote compared to non-Latinos based on state and national statistics.40 The June 2014 Latino Decision’s report also stated that there are 2.9 million voting-eligible Latinos in the state who are not engaged in the electoral process.41 This voter packing process is observable across the country and has led to less competitive districts and less interest in seducing Latinos and minorities in general by both Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans have not been above the use of immoral practices and influence the results of the election process through voter suppression and gerrymandering. Democrats have also used these acts of subterfuge and failed to galvanize Latinos, who usually vote on issues rather than based on their parties’ affiliation or identification. The Latino vote is not a default vote for Democrats. Some cases indicate clearly that the immigration issue is the most important. Obama’s decision to stop deporting DREAMers, the children brought into the country under the age of 16 by their parents illegally in the United States, led to a higher approval rating among Latino Americans in Texas (around 59 percent.) Additionally the executive order has led to a greater approval of Obama among Latinos and could be decisive in the next presidential race.42 However, health and education issues have become important opportunities for Democrats in order to distinguish themselves from Republicans, and win the support and participation of Latino voters.43 Although, many grassroots organization thought this executive order was too little and too late.44

Executive Orders: A Real Change or a Marginal Political Move?

President Obama’s executive order, announced on November 20, 2014, will protect eligible undocumented people from deportation and give the right to work to 4.1 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for at least five years. This executive order is also binding for hundreds of thousands more young people.45 However, President Barack Obama’s latest immigration executive action is temporary and could expire in 2017 when a new president takes office. The executive order depends on the will of the President, which will certainly become a decisive topic for the Latino community during the 2016 presidential race.46 This should be seen as a political move done in order to link the 2016 presidential race and the immigration issue.

Polling data analyzed by the Latino Decisions for, the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC), and Mi Familia Vota confirmed this opinion that the promise of renewing this executive order would present a decisive advantage to win the Latino Vote in 2016.47 In this poll, Hilary Clinton, the early Democratic presidential frontrunner for 2016, would gain nearly 85 percent of approval in Latino community, if she chooses to renew these executive measures: If she hypothetically does not, 37 percent of Latinos would approve her. Around 73 percent of Latinos said that they support Obama to use executive orders to afford a legal status to the remaining undocumented migrants not covered by the November 20 announcement.48 After being the top issue in the 2014 midterm elections, Matt Barreto, the co-founder of Latino Decisions, argued that immigration will be among the top issues for Latino voters in the 2016 presidential elections. The Republican Party can either vote for a comprehensive immigration reform or attempt to block the executive action after winning the majority in Congress in the 2014 midterm elections, which is likely to be then vetoed by President Obama. In any case, renewing Obama’s executive action on immigration will be an important political commitment to gain the Latinos support in the 2016 presidential race.49

Grassroots Latino organizations welcomed the executive order, but criticized its delay and temporary status, as well as its limited coverage that neglects 6 million undocumented immigrants.50 They also backed the executive orders, but with strong conditionality of its effective application. For example, Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, had stated that he will “evaluate the new policy on the merits as details are made available, and we will judge its success or failure in the days ahead based on whether it helps or harms those who we know and love.”51

Towards an Independent Latino Movement?

The Democrats have attempted to gain Latino support by favoring immigration issues while at the same time ignoring other Latinos demands. Republicans enclosed themselves in opposition to a comprehensive immigration measure. Seventeen States mostly southern and mid-western led by the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry, filed a lawsuit against president Obama’s executive measures.52 The lawsuit focuses on three points: President Obama allegedly violated the scope of his presidential powers; the federal administration violated the legislative ; this rule making process could lead to a deterioration of the welfare state and economic situation around the border.

Republicans as well as Democrats are likely to try to respond to the demands of Latinos, but both parties could decide to choose to ignore the minority’s demands. Democrats ignored immigration reform for a long time and likely lost the mid-term election as a result.53 Beyond this issue, they also can be expected to ignore the socially conservative views of Latinos just as Republicans ignore health, social, and education demands of Latinos.54 Both parties, in a tacit agreement, prefer to deal with the Latino electorate through the immigration issue, which in itself is enough to drain the Latinos vote.

However, far from the unilateral message publicized in mainstream media, the Voto Latino should not always be labeled Democratic and only immigration reform oriented. Numerous Latinos voted Republican and will continue to do so in 2016, especially if the GOP tries to appeal to more Latinos.55 When comparing the 2012 elections to the 2014 midterm elections, this current trend has not favored the Democrats, even if Obama’s last move is likely to reverse this. After being almost a cheap date for Democrats for decades, is the Latino vote emerging as an independent movement, presenting a harsher deal for both parties?

By: Clemént Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: and Rights Action.


Featured image by: Thomas Hawk, “Somebody Little Girl”  via Flickr:

 1 SHEAR Michael and PEAR Robert, “Obama’s Immigration Plan Could Shield Five Million,” in New York Times, November 19, 2014. Consulted on on December 02, 2014.

2TAYLOR Andrew “ Reagan And Bush Made The Same Immigration Move That Has The GOP Enraged At Obama,” in Business Insider on November 17, 2014. Consulted on on December 02, 2014.

3SHEARNOV Michael, “Obama, Daring Congress, Acts to Overhaul Immigration,” in The New York Times on November 20, 2014. Consulted on on December 02, 2014.

4STRAUSS Daniel, “GOPer Sees Obama Impeachment, Jail Time Over Executive Action,” in Talking Points Memo, November 20, 2014. Consulted on

5TAYLOR Paul, GONZALEZ-BARRERA Ana, PASSEL Jeffrey S., HUGO LOPEZ Mark, An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030, Aging, Naturalization and Immigration Will Drive Growth, Pew Hispanic Center, on November 14, 2012. Consulted on On November 17, 2014.

6 As stated by the Pew Hispanic Center, “this projection is based on assumptions about future levels of fertility, mortality, and immigration. The projections subdivide the population by age, sex, race/Hispanic origin and generation (foreign-born, U.S.-born with immigrant parent(s) and U.S.-born with native parents). See Passel and Cohn (2008) for details on methodology and assumptions. The figures cited here are from the “middle” projection which assumes slight increases in immigration levels through 2030. The future voting-eligible population includes the U.S.-born population ages 18 and older plus the foreign-born population ages 18 and over who have become U.S. citizens by naturalization. The estimates of naturalized citizens in the future are based on extrapolation of trends in naturalization rates by race/Hispanic origin observed for 1995-2010. »

7[1]KENT Mary M., POLLARD Kelvin J., HAAGA John, and MATHER Mark, “First Glimpses from the 2000 U.S. Census,” Population Bulletin 56, no. 2 (June 2001): 14; and PASSELJeffrey S. and COHN D’Vera, “How Many Hispanics? Comparing New Census Counts with the Latest Census Estimates,” Pew Hispanic Center, March 30, 2011.

8 Ibid ; Pew Hispanic Center, “Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2010,” table 1. ; GUTIERREZ Davod G. An Historic Overview of Latino Immigration and the Demographic Transformation of the United States consulted on on November 17, 2014.

9TAYLOR Paul, GONZALEZ-BARRERA Ana, PASSEL Jeffrey S., HUGO LOPEZ Mark, An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030, Aging, Naturalization and Immigration Will Drive Growth, Pew Hispanic Center, on November 14, 2012. Consulted on On November 17, 2014.

10 “Twelfth Annual report to the President on Hispanic Employment in the Federal Governments”, United States Office of Personnel management, September 18, 2013.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 HUGO LOPEZ Mark and TAYLOR Paul, “Latino voters in the 2012 elections,” Pew Research Center, November 7, 2012. Consulted on on November 22, 2014.

14 YU-HSI LEE Esther, « Latinos Voted Democrat 2-to-1, But Shifted Republican In Some Key Races,» in Think Progress on November 6, 2014. Consulted on on November 17, 2014.


16CAMPBELL Ryan, “Obama’s Immigration Announcement and What’s Next,” Huffington Post, February 02, 2014, consulted on on December 02, 2014.

17 DADE Corey, “Obama Administration Deported Record 1.5 Million People,” NPR blog, consulted on December 24, 2012, on on December 02, 2014.

18 CAMPBELL Ryan, “Obama’s Immigration Announcement and What’s Next,” Huffington Post, February 02, 2014, consulted on on December 02, 2014.

19TAYLOR Paul, GONZALEZ-BARRERA Ana, PASSEL Jeffrey S., HUGO LOPEZ Mark, An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030, Aging, Naturalization and Immigration Will Drive Growth, Pew Hispanic Center, on November 14, 2012. Consulted on On November 17, 2014. See also MARTINEZ-EBERS Valérie, “Five myths about Latino voters,” in Washington Post, on October 5, 2012. Consulted on on November 17, 2014.

20 “Latino Voices, “The impacts of crime and criminal justice policies on Latino,” Californians for safety and justice, on June 2014.Consulted on,d.cWc on December 02, 2014.


22 Ibid.

23 TAYLOR Paul, GONZALEZ-BARRERA Ana, PASSEL Jeffrey S., HUGO LOPEZ Mark, An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate is Likely to Double by 2030, Aging, Naturalization and Immigration Will Drive Growth, Pew Hispanic Center, on November 14, 2012. Consulted on On November 17, 2014.

24 MOCK Brentin, « Republicans fix polls in US elections, Democracy rezoned,» Le Monde Diplo, November 2014, consulted on on November 17, 2014.


26Ibid. and FactCheck, “The Florida Recount of 2000,” on FactCheck, on January 22, 2008, on on November 17, 2014.

27 KARLAN Pamela S., “Lessons Learned: Voting Rights and the Bush Administration,” (PDF) Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy, no 17, Durham (North Carolina), 2009.

28MOCK Brentin, « Republicans fix polls in US elections, Democracy rezoned,” Le Monde Diplo, November 2014, consulted on on November 17, 2014.

29Justin Levitt, “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast,” The Washington Post, 6 August 2014.

30 Election 2012: Voting Laws Roundup” and “Voting Laws Roundup 2013,” Brennan Center for Justice.

31 MOCK Brentin, « Republicans fix polls in US elections, Democracy rezoned,» Le Monde Diplo, November 2014, consulted on on November 17, 2014.

32The redrawing could have lead to giving the control of redistricting to the Republicans and allowing them to win seats in 20 States they control, against 7 for the Democrats. Also in the 23 other US states, independent or bipartisan commissions control redistricting, in order to avoid gerrymandering.

33MOCK Brentin, « Republicans fix polls in US elections, Democracy rezoned,» Le Monde Diplo, November 2014, consulted on on November 17, 2014.




37McARTHUR Loren Deputy Director, Civic Engagement, NCLR, « Competing for the Latino Vote in Texas Part II: The Democrats’ Dilemma ,» by National Council of La Raza (NCLR) blog on April 9, 2014. Consulted on on November 17, 2014.

38Ibid. ; According to data from Latino Decision, in 2012, just 25 per cent of Hispanic voters in Texas said that a campaign, political party, or community organization had contacted them regarding voting. In swing states such as Colorado and Nevada, in comparison, 59 per cent and 51 per cent of Hispanic voters were contacted, respectively, leading to a much greater Latino participation rates with around 50 per cent in both states.

39 MANZANO Sylvia, « Obstacles and Opportunities in Texas,» Latino Decisions, June 3rd, 2014, consulted on on November 17, 2014.



42For more details on the DREAM Act and the DREAMers, you can also see Consulted on November 22, 2014. ; OLEAGA Michael, “Obama Immigration Executive Orders Update: Hillary Clinton’s Latino Support Drops Heavily If Executive Actions Not Renewed,” on LatinPost, published on Dec 04, 2014. Consulted on on December 08, 2014

43McARTHUR Loren Deputy Director, Civic Engagement, NCLR, « Competing for the Latino Vote in Texas Part II: The Democrats’ Dilemma,» by National Council of La Raza (NCLR) blog on April 9, 2014. Consulted on on November 17, 2014.

44 You can see the comments on many grassroots organization on consulted on December 08, 2014

45 “Texas leads coalition of states in lawsuit against Obama immigration actions,” on Fox News, published December 03, 2014. Consulted on Consulted on December 08, 2014.

46OLEAGA Michael, “Obama Immigration Executive Orders Update: Hillary Clinton’s Latino Support Drops Heavily If Executive Actions Not Renewed,” on LatinPost, published on Dec 04, 2014. Consulted on on December 08, 2014




50 As stated by The Latin American Legal Defense and Education fund Inc. (LALDEF) : “The president’s executive order is but a temporary measure that still leaves six million people forgotten and still hiding » ; The grassroots organization Popular Resistance also reported similar position stating that : “The president’s action is limited, even though it will protect millions. As Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote: “The president’s action is quite limited. It does not create a path to citizenship. It does not entitle undocumented immigrants to receive public benefits like food stamps. It simply halts deportations for those who meet certain criteria, giving them lawful presence in the United States – but only for the time being. The rug could be pulled out from under them at any time by this or any future president. In short, President Obama has simply given a small measure of security to millions of immigrants who are now living in the shadows.”” on consulted on December 08, 2014.

51 LOEWE B., “Pablo Alvarado: The Only Secure Community is an Organized One,” NDLON, on November 20, 2014. Consulted on, on January 16, 2015.

52 Including Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin

53 NAVARETTE Ruben Jr, “Adios, Democrats?,” in The Daily Beast, on November 11, 2014. Consulted on on December 10, 2014.

54 PLANAS Roque, “Latinos Activists Angry, But Vindicated, After Democrats Lose Senate,” in The Huffington Post on November 05, 2014. Consulted on on December 10, 2014.

55 NAVARETTE Ruben Jr, “Adios, Democrats?,” in The Daily Beast, on November 11, 2014. Consulted on on December 10, 2014.