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Ethnic voting patterns have been a major theme in this election cycle
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Multicultural and Ethnic Voting Patterns, The Past, The Present and The Future
By Loretta Poggio, Ph.D., Ethnic Technologies, LLC

Ethnic voting patterns have been a major theme in this election cycle.

Historically, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits federal or state governments from infringing on a citizen’s right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The United States Congress generally considers the Voting Rights Act, adopted initially in 1965 and extended in 1970, 1975, and 1982, the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted. The Act codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment’s permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color.

Since this act was adopted, politicians have paid closer attention to emerging ethnic and racial groups. Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians have been studied and courted in the attempt to generate votes for all parties.

Hispanics are the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority group; at 46 million strong, they make up about 15% of the U.S. population. Their electoral clout continues to be undercut by the fact that many are ineligible to vote, either because they are not citizens or not yet 18 years old. In 2008, Latinos will comprise about 9% of the eligible electorate nationwide. If past turnout trends persist, they will make up only about 6.5% of those who actually turn out to vote in November.

But despite these modest numbers, Hispanics loom as a potential “swing vote” in the upcoming presidential race. That’s because they are strategically located on the 2008 Electoral College map. Hispanics constitute a sizable share of the electorate in four of the six states that President Bush carried by margins of five percentage points or fewer in 2004 – New Mexico (where Hispanics make up 37% of state’s eligible electorate); Florida (14%); Nevada (12%) and Colorado (12%). All four are expected to be closely contested once again in this election.

Latino voters are split on language and geography issues. A little over 57% of Hispanic voters are either registered Democrats or lean towards the Democratic Party, while just 23% align with the Republican Party.

Latinos form less cohesive communities than other groups. They originate from many different parts of world. Some are native-born, others are recent immigrants. The difference in national origin results in divergent experiences and impacts their political preferences. Hispanic voters appreciate receiving bilingual information about candidates. This helps them relate to the issues, candidates and political process.

A new generation of African-American political voices are emerging, less influenced by the civil rights struggle. As Professor Eddie Glaude of Princeton University said at a recent Center for American Progress Action Fund event, “These voices are focusing not on ‘galvanizing the electorate,’ as was seen with Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign, but rather with electing a mainstream candidate.” However, there remains a split among class and education: wealthier, educated African-Americans are registered Republican; less educated, and poorer are registered Democratic.

African-Americans rely upon social organizations for political information. Churches are cornerstones of Black political mobilization. They employ their resources as religious institutions to inform group political consciousness, influence political choices and shape political behavior through the development of democratic skills and the transfer of political messages. Other influencers include the barber and beauty shops, as well as social and fraternal organizations.

Asian-Americans, whose voting power has been much less scrutinized than African-Americans and Hispanics, are known as swing voters. Asian-Americans are split among the parties, as 40% are either registered or lean to Republican, 36% are either registered or lean to Democratic and 24% hold other affiliations. The “typical” Asian voter, more so than any other group, votes according to information gotten from inside the community and from ethnic media.

Asians are the only group that is slightly more conservative than whites. Most Japanese-Americans are Democrats, while Koreans and Vietnamese are more likely to be Republicans. Chinese-Americans are evenly split among the two major parties and independents. Contrary to popular belief, Asian-Americans are not reluctant to participate in politics. Second only to Jewish voters, Asian-Americans contribute more money per potential electorate during their fundraising campaign.

Visibility and familiarity may help gain Asian-American votes, but direct outreach to Asian communities has proven to be the most effective way to sway voters. In an effort to unite the diverse groups found in this community, the 80-20 Initiative, a pan-Asian American organization, was created to channel at least 80% of registered Asians to vote as a bloc for a chosen candidate based on what he would do for Asian-Americans.

Here are a few general points to keep in mind when engaging the minority voter:

  • Each group is unique and each ethnicity within the group is unique.
  • Understand and appreciate traditions and beliefs.
  • Avoid stereotypes and clichés; approach issues with cultural sensitivity.
  • Be careful when translating English, especially slogans, into foreign languages. Ideally, there should be staff who speak the language of the target groups.
  • Use the native language media of the group you want to attract – particularly in print media.
  • Get involved with the minority community.

The candidate who prevails in Election 2008 will be the candidate who understands, appreciates and relates to the diverse American electorate.

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