(Editor's note: The following article appeared in the spring 2012 edition of Bucknell Magazine.)
By Rhonda K. Miller
With 16 percent of the United States population identifying as Latino, it is increasingly important for local, state and federal candidates to understand how this group participates in the political process.
"Latinos replaced African-Americans in 2000 as the largest minority group, and live in states with the largest number of electoral votes including California and Texas," says Assistant Professor of Political Science Atiya Kai Stokes-Brown, an expert on race, gender and identity in politics. Living in electorally rich and highly competitive states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, "Latino voters have the capacity to influence outcomes in elections for president and in some cases U.S. Senate in 2012," she says.
Stokes-Brown, author of The Politics of Race in Latino Communities: Walking the Color Line (Routledge 2012), says political strategists must understand the complexities of ethnicity, race and self-identification within the Latino community to effectively target voters. "The Latino community is extremely diverse," she says.
For instance, in the Florida Republican Primary, Newt Gingrich launched a series of attack ads against Mitt Romney claiming that Romney was anti-Latino, given his strict immigration policies. It was an ineffective strategy, Stokes-Brown says, since the majority of Latinos in Florida are Cuban, a group that is not impacted by recent immigration laws and debates because of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act.
"Romney carried the Latino vote, but that vote was overwhelmingly Cuban," she says. "Latino voters in California are predominantly Mexican, and a candidate's immigration message will matter more."
Race also plays a role in how Latinos might vote, Stokes-Brown adds. Latinos who self- identify as white are less likely to vote for a Latino candidate. Yet someone who has adopted a racialized Latino identity is much more likely to support a Latino candidate over a non-Latino candidate when given the opportunity.
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