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Home / Articles / News / Features /  The Hispanic Century

The Hispanic Century

Hispanic voters are poised to change American politics—and neither party has sealed the deal

May 4, 2011, 12:00 am
By SFR

Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-Nev.)
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Of course, Hispanics as a group are different from whites and blacks in more ways than just ethnicity. A variety of research shows that Hispanic immigrants and their descendants tend to be younger and less educated, to face language barriers and, often, to possess fewer resources that facilitate participation in US politics. Such individual characteristics have repeatedly been shown to have powerful effects on voting. But the specific question remained: If Hispanics had the same demographic characteristics as whites and blacks, would their turnout rate increase?


Using individual-level data from our dataset, we found that Hispanics turned out at similar rates to whites and blacks once we accounted for demographic differences between the groups that are known to affect turnout (that is, age, gender, work status, education). In six of the eight midterm elections in our study, the rates of turnout for Hispanics and whites were not statistically different, once the demographic differences were accounted for. Only in 1982 did Hispanics vote at lower rates than whites and, in 1994, Hispanics voted at higher rates than whites once other demographic differences were analyzed. 


These results suggest that much of the explanation for the lower aggregate rates of turnout for Hispanics compared to whites and blacks is not related to being Hispanic, but rather to Hispanics being younger and having less education on average than whites or blacks. 


In the aggregate, Democrats maintained about a 20-25 percent advantage in party identification among Hispanics in midterm elections between 1978 and 2010. This gap would appear to provide a clear mobilization advantage for Democratic candidates, akin to what is seen among blacks. 


As with to voter turnout, however, we turned our attention to individual-level analyses that allowed us to account for demographic differences between Hispanics, whites and blacks in regard to party identification. Compared to whites, blacks were found to be less likely to be Republican and more likely to be Democratic across most election years, a result to be expected given the long line of research supporting it. 


But by and large, Hispanics did not follow the same pattern. The results we found suggest that, once individual-level characteristics such as age and education are considered, differences between whites and Hispanics in terms of both party identification and the strength of partisan attachment disappear. That’s to say, as with whites, there are partisan swings in the Hispanic community and only a modest attachment to parties, suggesting that Hispanics have not been fully incorporated into the party system.

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