As the fastest growing minority population in the United States, the Hispanic-American electorate will play a critical role in upcoming elections. In fact, it's likely that at this very moment someone is crunching numbers, trying to determine how best to attract Hispanic-American voters for their respective political party. But could it be that there is no magic formula to win the Hispanic vote?
Contrary to what many seem to think, Hispanics are not all alike. While it's easy for politicians to assume the opposite, we know that there are varying degrees of differences between Mexicans, Argentineans, Guatemalans and Puerto Ricans. We know the difference between mariachi, cumbia, and salsa. Just as we recognize the differences between paella, mole and platanos. And while we may share a common language, and even a common religion, we are acutely aware of how culturally diverse we really are.
You would think that politicians would have recognized this by now. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that political consultants and political parties continue to treat Hispanic-American voters as one voting block, recycling tired and tested political gimmicks to curry our support. From donning a sombrero, or going to a Mexican restaurant, or marching at the Puerto Rican parade, it seems like the best strategy for a politician is to pretend to be Hispanic - albeit temporarily.
And with the 2008 Presidential election fast approaching, we can be sure that the large slew of candidates (of both political parties) are coming up with ways to do and say the "right" things to bring in the approximately 6 to 9 million eligible Hispanic-American voters to their quarters.
Is it possible, however, that for this upcoming presidential election Hispanic-American voters will base their decision on the individual candidates and issues?
Based on exit polling from the 2002, 2004, and 2006 federal elections, the answer seems to be yes. By and large, Hispanic-Americans tended to vote along with the rest of the American electorate in the last few national elections -- with the Republican Party making considerable gains in the 2004 presidential election. In a similar vein, much has been said of the considerable drop of the Hispanic American vote in last November's Congressional midterm election. According to the experts, the immigration issue cost the Republicans a large number of votes.
While it's true that the Republican party may have alienated some Hispanic-American voters because of immigration, political pundits would be wrong to conclude that Hispanics will punish the GOP because of that one issue. Hispanic-Americans will vote on how candidates come down on all issues including healthcare, jobs, education and national security. We are a discerning group that is not easily fooled by lofty promises. Similarly, we hold our elected officials accountable and demand results.
Like other immigrant groups which came to this country, we are slowly seeing our rise in numbers translate to economic and political power. And with more and more Americans of Hispanic descent becoming CEOs, senators and doctors, future political elections will be based less on show and more on issues and substance. We will no doubt watch closely, as will the rest of the country, as the 2008 presidential election heats up to see if the politicians do the same.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation and has worked in Washington, D.C. and Congress for half a decade.
First Appeared in the el Sentinel on August 10, 2007