Opinion: Why Democrats Can’t Count on Us

For decades now, a majority of us Latinos have supported the Democratic Party, most recently helping to usher in President Obama with 67 percent of our vote.

And how have the Democrats thanked us for this long history of loyalty and support? By ignoring us so utterly that most of us are planning to stay home this November—a decision that could lead to a shift of power in Washington.

According to a new survey out last week by the Pew Hispanic Center, only half of Latino registered voters are planning to vote in this year’s mid-term elections, compared with 70 percent of all registered voters.

In other words, we’re matching Democratic apathy toward Latinos with apathy of our own—borne out of a sense of betrayal. After all, didn’t President Obama earn our vote in part because of his public pledge to implement sensible immigration reform? And yet earlier this month he admitted in an interview that change is unlikely to come any time soon.

Then there were his promises about education—the issue that Latinos rank as being most important in their lives, according to the Pew study. President Obama seemingly values education, too; after all, one of his stated policy goals is to have the United States turn out more college graduates than any other nation by the year 2020.

Yet hitting that ambitious target will not be possible without paying special attention to Hispanics. That’s because Latinos continue to have the highest high school dropout rate—9 percent— of any group, be it whites, African-Americans or Asian Americans. Only 13 percent of us have received at least a bachelor’s degree, and, right now, only 28 percent of college-age Latinos are enrolled in college (versus 45 percent of whites and 34 percent of African-Americans).

You’d think those stats would make Hispanics the primary target of any education reform the President discusses. But you’d be wrong: So far, President Obama has yet to tackle this issue, and in a 30-minute interview on the Today show two weeks ago, he failed even to utter the word “Hispanic” or “Latino.”

Perhaps the President and his fellow Democrats don’t feel as if they need to directly address our concerns; after all, our votes are a given, right? As the Pew study shows, however, by taking us so for granted, Democrats are putting their balance of power at risk. Yes, a majority of us may still align ourselves with the Democratic party—but if we’re not showing up to the polls, that won't matter.

What does matter is another one of the Pew survey’s findings, which has gone undiscussed by the mainstream press: of the Latinos who are planning to vote in November, most of them are Republicans.

Could this be the start of a cultural shift in political allegiance? Only time will tell, of course, but if the Democrats don’t start paying more attention to us soon, someday historians may point back to this year’s midterms as the turning point that forever shaped the division of power in this country.

Galina Espinoza is the Editorial Director of Latina magazine.