Latino & immigrant populations play key role in 2012 election

November 15, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The real play for the Latino vote will continue to grow stronger as campaigning for the general election begins, says a Purdue University political scientist.

"At this time, the Republican candidates are not regularly discussing immigration issues and if they do, their signals are negative toward such issues," says political science professor James McCann, who studies U.S. public opinion and Latino civic involvement. "At the same time, the Democrats and President Barack Obama are giving fuzzy signals to Latinos, hoping that Republican opposition on immigration issues will motivate them to support the Democrats."

McCann says that when a Republican presidential candidate is determined, immigration will be a more frequent issue for both parties. There will be more tailored messages aimed at this demographic, and each party will highlight their Latino leaders.

Both parties will have to work at attracting this voting block, says McCann, who is writing a book about how Latino immigrants respond to American party politics.

"Latino voters are not incorporated in the Democratic fold as African Americans are because Latinos have not had the defining experience that African Americans had during the Civil Rights era," he says. "There were echoes during the 2006 immigration protests, but the movement did not continue and the Latino demographic doesn't have strong, central leadership."

Another difference is that 40 percent of Latino adults are noncitizens, and even though they won't be voting, McCann's research shows that many of them play a role in civic life and events surrounding American politics and elections.

"This is an astounding number, and my research shows that people who lack voting rights are still engaged in electoral politics. This is a mobilizing force in electoral politics, and their reach is beyond casting a ballot," says McCann, who has been surveying Mexican immigrants regarding political participation and other civic issues since 2006.

He says participating in local civic life for immigrants also can bolster their sense of American identity and as an active member of the community.

Another factor to consider with the Latino demographic is that the Mexican presidential election, which occurs every six years, also is happening in 2012. Because of transnational voting rights, Mexican expatriates living in the United States will be able to vote in the Mexican presidential election in July 2012.

"This is the second time Mexican expatriates will be able to vote transnationally, and it will be interesting to see as they follow both presidential elections, how will their interests, ballots and even actions affect their decisions?"

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: James McCann, 765-494-0738, mccannj@purdue.edu