July 22, 2004

The 2004 National Survey Of Latinos: Politics and Civic Participation

Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation

III. The Latino Electorate

Latinos who are eligible to vote comprise a distinct segment of the Hispanic population with different characteristics than the adult population as a whole. Because voting requires citizenship, about four of every ten Latinos of voting age are not eligible to go the polls because they are immigrants who have not become citizens. Some are waiting to complete the naturalization process, others have not met the five-year residency requirement and still others have chosen not to seek U.S. citizenship. Also, a sizeable piece of the foreign-born population does not have the legal immigration status that would allow them to eventually become citizens.

A much lager share of Latino registered voters were born in the United States than in the Hispanic population as a whole. Not surprisingly, they have higher levels of education and are more likely to be English speakers as well. The results of this survey reveal one consistent difference that relates to political views: In responses to a series of questions the Immigrant non-voters are more responsive to ethnic appeals than Latinos who are registered voters. They are, for example, more likely to say that it is important to them to pick an organization that specifically addresses Latino concerns when they do volunteer work.

Demographic Portrait

Three-quarters of the Latino electorate is native-born U.S. citizens compared to less than half of the total Latino population of voting age (18 years old plus). (Chart 20)

Two-thirds (66%) of the Latino electorate was born in the continental United States and another 8% were born in Puerto Rico where they are U.S. citizens by birthright. A quarter (26%) were born in a country other than the United States and have become U.S. citizens by naturalization.

Immigrants make up more than twice as large a share (57%) of the total Hispanic population that is at least 18 years old.

Like the general Latino population in the United States, most registered Latinos are Mexican, and the vast majority currently lives in the South or the West. (Chart 21)

Six in ten (60%) registered Latinos are Mexican, 15% are Puerto Rican, 6% are Cuban, 5% are South American, 4% are Central American, 4% are Spanish, and 2% are Dominican. The remaining 4% are from or have ancestors from other Latin countries.

Nearly eight in ten registered Latinos live in the South (39%) or the West (37%). Another 16% live in the Northeast and 8% live in the North Central region of the United States.

The vast majority of registered Latinos primarily speaks English or is bilingual. (Chart 22)

Over eight in ten registered Latinos primarily speak English (42%) or are bilingual (39%). About two in ten (19%) are Spanish dominant.

Reflecting the much larger presence of immigrants, language use in the Hispanic adult population as a whole is very different with 25% speaking primarily English, 29% bilingual and 46% Spanish dominant.

Most registered Latino citizens say that they get their news from both English and Spanish television or radio programs. However, the vast majority say they predominantly get their news from English sources. (Chart 22)

Most (53%) registered Latinos say that the news programs that they watch on television or listen to on the radio are a combination of Spanish and English. Twenty percent say that they are more English than Spanish, 25% say they are equally English and Spanish, and 8% say that they are more Spanish than English. Nearly four in ten (37%) say that they only watch or listen to news programs in English and about one in ten (9%) say that they only listen to programs in Spanish.

Most registered Latinos have a high school education or less than a high school education. (Chart 23)

Most registered Latinos (57%) have a high school education or less. About four in ten (41%) have had an education past high school, including 16% who are college graduates.

The Latino electorate is better educated than the Latino population as a whole. Among all adult Latinos 42% have not completed high school compared to 27% of registered voters. Only 10% of adults in the overall Latino population are college graduates.

Attitudes About Government

Registered Latinos are not overly trusting of the government to do what is right. Most say they only trust the government to do what is right some of the time. (Chart 24)

When asked how much of the time they trust the government to do what is right, 9% of registered voters say they trust the government just about always, 29% say most of the time, 53% say some of the time, and 7% say never.

Registered Latinos are somewhat split as to whether they would prefer to pay more taxes for a large government that provides more services or if they would prefer to pay less in taxes and have a smaller government that provides fewer services. (Chart 25)

Forty-nine percent of registered Latinos say that they would prefer to pay higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services, while 43% of registered Latinos say that they would prefer to pay lower taxes and have a smaller government that provides fewer services.

Partisan identification does not appear to be a major factor in shaping Latino views on this point with similar shares of Latino Democrats (52%) and Republicans (48%) saying they would pay for a larger government.

Registered Latinos are also split on whether or not political leaders care what people like them think and most say that political leaders are not interested in the problems of particular interest to Latinos living in the United States. (Chart 26)

About half of registered Latinos agree strongly (29%) or somewhat (23%) that political leaders do not care much what people like them think. Just under half disagree strongly (21%) or somewhat (25%).

Most registered Latinos (54%) say that based on their experience political leaders are not interested in the problems of particular concern to Latinos living in the United States. However, about four in ten (39%) disagree and say that political leaders are interested in Latino concerns.

Registered Latinos are considerably more likely to say that the Democratic Party has more concern for Latinos than the Republican Party. However, an equal amount says that there is no difference between the two parties. (Chart 27)

When asked if the Democratic Party or the Republican Party has more concern for Latinos, over four in ten (43%) registered Latinos say that the Democratic Party is more concerned while about one in ten (11%) say the Republican Party. However, over four in ten (42%) say that there is no difference between the two parties.

There is little consensus among registered Latinos, as to whether or not Latinos are working together towards common political goals. (Chart 28)

Fifty-one percent of registered Latinos say that Latinos from different countries are not working together to achieve common political goals. Over four in ten (43%) registered Latinos disagree and say that Latinos from different countries are working together.

However, for the most part, registered Latinos say that they are more concerned with politics and government in the United States rather than politics and government in their country of origin. (Chart 28)

About eight in ten (79%) of registered Latinos say that they are more concerned about government and politics in the United States rather than their country of origin. Just over one in ten (11%) say they are equally concerned about government and politics in the United States and their country of origin, and 6% say that they are more concerned about government and politics in their country of origin rather than the United States.

For the most part, registered Latinos say that religion should be kept out of public debates over social and political issues. (Chart 29)

About three in four (74%) registered Latinos agree that religion is a private matter that should be kept out of public debates over social and political issues. This includes six in ten (60%) that strongly feel this way. However, about one in four (23%) registered Latinos disagree.

Latino registered voters who are Roman Catholics are more likely to say they agree strongly that religion should be kept out of public debates (63%) compared to Protestants (48%) and born-again Christians (46%).

Voting

The vast majority of registered Latinos say that they have voted in an election in the United States. However, one in seven registered voters say that they have not. (Chart 30)

When asked if they have ever voted in a U.S. election, 86% of registered Latinos said that they had and 14% said that they had not.

Although most registered Latinos say that they have voted in their most recent congressional election or presidential election, about one in ten said that they did not vote in either election. (Chart 30)

Nearly seven in ten (67%) registered Latinos said that they voted in the 2002 congressional election in their district, while 16% said that they did not.

About seven in ten (71%) registered Latinos said that they voted in the 2000 Presidential election, while 14% said that they did not.

Overall, 77% of registered Latinos said that they voted in the last Congressional or Presidential election and 9% said that they did not vote in either election.

When asked about reasons why they do not always vote, registered Latinos are more likely to cite reasons that have to do with candidates than factors of convenience. (Chart 31)

The Percent of registered Latinos who say that they do not always vote because:
o They sometimes don’t like any of the candidates (59%)
o They sometimes feel they don’t know enough about the candidates to vote (56%)
o They feel that they can make more of a difference by getting involved in their community than by voting in elections (42%)
o It’s difficult for them to get out to the polls to vote (18%)
o It’s complicated to register to vote where they live (12%)

Most registered Latinos say that having a Latino candidate in a race will not make them more likely to vote. However a sizeable minority says that it will make a difference in getting them to the polls. (Chart 32)

Just over half (55%) of registered voters disagreed strongly (35%) or somewhat (20%) that they would be more likely to vote if there were Latinos on the ballot. However, about four in ten (41%) disagree, and say that they agree strongly (26%) or somewhat (15%) that having a Latino on the ballot would make them more likely to vote.

The reported behavior of Latino registered voters in this regard differs substantially from the perception of Latinos who are not part of the electorate. Among Latinos who are not U.S. citizens, for example, 82% say they believe that Latino voters are more likely to go to the polls if fellow Latinos are on the ballot box.

According to registered Latinos, a candidate’s ethnic background does play a role in winning their vote. Most registered Latinos say that they are more likely to vote for a Latino candidate instead of a non-Latino candidate if they have the same qualifications. However, most registered Latinos say that they would not vote for a Latino candidate if there is a better qualified non-Latino candidate running for the same office. (Charts 32 and 33)

Nearly six in ten (58%) registered Latinos say that they agree with the statement “I am more likely to vote for a Latino candidate instead of a non-Latino candidate running for the same office if they have the same qualifications.” This includes 38% who agree strongly with the statement.

Over seven in ten (73%) registered Latinos say that they disagree with the statement “I will usually pick a Latino candidate even if there is a better qualified non-Latino running for the same office.” This includes 55% who say they disagree strongly with the statement. However, nearly one in four (24%) registered Latino voters agree with the statement, including 15% who agree strongly.

On this point too, Latinos who are not voters assume that ethnic appeal plays a larger role than is actually the case according to the responses of registered voters. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Latinos who are not citizens said they believed Hispanic voters would pick a Hispanic candidate over a better qualified non-Hispanic while in fact only a quarter (24%) of Latino registered voters agreed with this view.

Civic Engagement

There are a number of other ways that registered Latinos say that they actively participate in politics and current events besides voting. Many have attended a public meeting or demonstration in their community or contacted an elected official. (Chart 34)

Percent of registered Latinos who say that they have:
o Attended a public meeting or demonstration in the community where they live (26%)
o Contacted an elected official (22%)
o Contributed money to a candidate running for public office (16%)
o Attended a political party meeting or function (16%)
o Worked as a volunteer or for pay for a political candidate (7%)

It does not appear that registered Latinos limit their political activities to those that are specific to Latino concerns. (Chart 35)

Of the 16% of registered Latinos who contributed money to a candidate running for public office, nearly half (48%) say the candidate was a non-Latino, 31% say they have contributed money to Latino and non-Latino candidates, and 13% say that they contributed money to a Latino candidate.

Of the 7% of registered Latinos who have worked for a political candidate, 23% say the candidate was not Latino, 44% say they have worked for both Latino and non-Latino candidates, and 28% say they have worked for Latino candidates only.

Of the 26% of registered Latinos who have attended a public meeting or demonstration in their community, 73% say that it was not specific to Latino concerns and 27% say that it was.

Registered Latinos are also active in their community, with nearly two-thirds saying that they have engaged in some volunteer activity in the past year. (Chart 36)

The percent of registered Latinos who said that in the past year they have volunteered their time to:
o Any church or religious group (42%)
o Any school or tutoring program (34%)
o Any neighborhood, business, or community group (31%)
o Any organization representing their particular nationality or ethnic or racial group (16%)

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of registered Latinos said that they had done any of the volunteer activities listed above in the last year.

Most Latinos who volunteer say that in deciding whether or not to volunteer it was not important to them that the organization specifically address Latino concerns. (Chart 37)

Of those Latinos who had engaged in volunteer activity in the past year, over six in ten (63%) say that in deciding whether to volunteer their time it is not important to them that the organization specifically addressed Latino concerns. Thirty-five percent disagreed, and say that it is important.

Ethnic appeal exercises a stronger among non-voters in determining volunteer activities. Of the 44% of Latinos who are not citizens and who had volunteered, two-thirds (67%) said that it was important to them that the organization addressed Latino concerns.

The Potential for Growth

Nearly six in ten Latinos in the United States say that they are citizens. However, although all of these people are eligible to vote, just over four in ten Latinos say that they are registered voters. (Chart 38)

58% of Latinos in the United States say that they are citizens, while the remaining 42% say that they are not citizens.

The 58% of Latinos who say that they are citizens includes 43% who say they are registered to vote and another 14% who say that they are not registered.