December 1, 2000
By Jerome A DeHerrera
Given the razor-thin margin of the presidential contest, theories abound as to why it was so close and what its effect will be. With the outcome still in doubt, conflicting theories are understandable. One theory however of why the race was so close and what the impact of this election will be is clear: Hispanics voted in record numbers and proved they will be the key to future elections.
Exit returns by the Voter News Service report that Hispanics made up 7% of the total votes for President. To put this in perspective, Hispanics accounted for 5% of the vote in 1996, and 3% of the vote in 1980.
This rapid growth in Hispanic voters far outpaces all other races in the U.S. African-Americans for example made up 10% of the vote in 1980 as well as in the year 2000. African-Americans did grow to 12% of the vote in 1996 but fell to 10% of the vote this year.
Hispanics on the other hand as a percentage of voters more than doubled between 1980 and the year 2000. In 1980 the 2.5 million Latinos who voted made up 3% of the total votes that year. In contrast, this year the 7 million Latinos who voted made up 7% of all voters.
This dramatic rise confirms what many see as the growing influence of Hispanics in the United States. This year the influence of Hispanics was clear: Latinos voted for Vice-President Al Gore by a margin of 64% to 32% for Governor George Bush.
Despite Governor Bush's best efforts to package the Republican Party as "compassionate and conservative," Hispanics voted according to the established histories of each Party and to each candidate's current proposals to improve education, expand quality health care, and maintain a prosperous economy.
This was good news for Democrats, which relied heavily on their base voters of the working class, minority communities and women to produce what may be the closest presidential election in history. Because pre-election polls consistently showed Bush with at least a 2 or 3 point lead among likely voters, Democrats were forced to work even harder to bring out more of their base, many of whom aren't considered likely voters.
A voter is defined as "likely" based on how often they have voted in the past. Unfortunately for the Democrats, part of their traditional base of voters, working class families and minority communities, are not as likely to vote as are seniors, college-educated individuals and wealthier individuals.
This struggle for the Democrats to get their base out to vote was even harder this year because of the strength of the economy and the lack of compelling issues, which worked to keep turnout low. History has shown that voters become complacent when there is no compelling issue and when the economy is good and as a result don't vote in high numbers.
Despite these factors, Democrats across the country were able to use grass-roots methods such as phone banks, literature drops and sign waving to encourage a large turnout from their base. These efforts were especially successful in the battleground states where the Hispanic voter was targeted by the Democratic Party through its Latino coordinated campaign.
In states such as Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri, Democratic efforts were led by local community leaders. These leaders, too numerous to name, were all committed to producing the largest turnout in history.
The success of these local leaders and their get out the vote operations were the key to a record turnout of Hispanics and Al Gore winning the popular vote on Election Day.
The success this year in turning out Hispanic voters and the heightened awareness of the impact of voting from this year's election can only lead to higher numbers of Hispanics voting in the future.
With more and more Latinos voting in each election, the Hispanic community will benefit by having greater influence that will lead to higher levels of representation in government and in the judicial branch. The Hispanic community will also benefit from greater attention to important issues such as education, health care and immigration.
While the outcome of this year's race is unclear, one thing is clear: when Hispanics vote, Hispanic families win, and this year, more Hispanics voted than ever before.
Jerome writes a column from Washington DC, please send your comments to email@example.com.