What the Latino Vote Will Mean in Election 2016

Laird Bergad says that the Latino vote could swing the November presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton. “A lot depends on voter registration and participation rates,” adds the founding director of the University’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies.

Bergad noted that:

  • The Latino voter registration rate has not changed at 59% of all eligible Latino voters in every presidential election between 1992 and 2012
  • Because of this low registration rate only 48% of all eligible Latinos actually voted in each of these elections
  • Yet because of the Hispanic population increase, Latinos are projected to comprise about 10% of all voters nationally in November 2016, up from 3.7% in 1992
  • Among non-Hispanic whites, 66% of all eligible voters cast ballots in 2012; the rate was 67% among non-Hispanic blacks.
Distinguished Professor Laird W. Bergad is with the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Puerto Rican Studies, Lehman College and the Ph.D. Program in History at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is also the Director, Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies and has a partnership with CNN Español.

Distinguished Professor Laird W. Bergad is with the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Puerto Rican Studies, Lehman College and the Ph.D. Program in History at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is also the Director, Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies and has a partnership with CNN Español.


Bergad isn’t the only one saying this these days, of course.

The difference is that he has been saying it — as well as quantifying characteristics of the country’s Latino population — for more than a decade. Since 2003, the Distinguished Professor in the Department of Latin American, Latino and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College — and the predominantly Latino fellows he has mentored at the Center, also known as CLACLS — have been working with illuminating and raw federal census data that can be difficult to decipher. It also tells the story of all Latinos, as well as those from individual countries. This, too, is rare.

But CLACLS — and the work CUNY Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate researchers — was, according to Bergad, “hiding in plain sight.”

Not anymore.

Last year, CNN en Español, which reaches more than 4.7 million households in the United States and more than 38 million in Latin America, discovered CLACLS. Since January, the channel has been broadcasting monthly interviews based on CLACLS reports on Latino voting patterns in different regions throughout the country. Its anchors interview Bergad as CUNY, CLACLS and GC logos are displayed. The channel then uses the center’s data to report human-interest stories that reflect what the numbers mean in real-life terms.  In total, according to the channel, CLACLS data have inspired 18 stories on its various platforms.

According to Bergad, the author of Hispanics in the United States (Cambridge University Press) and five other books, “We have three projected reports for the fall:  One on Latinas and how their socioeconomic situation has changed dramatically since 1990 — they make up 53% of all Latino voters, at least in the last two elections; a second report, which will examine how educational attainment patterns have changed for the Latino population of the nation since 1990; and a third report on changes in household income and economic performance among Latinos,” Bergad says. “It is likely that as the election approaches, CNN en Español may also revisit some of our prior reports on swing states, especially the report on Florida; and the voter registration dilemma which was the first report.”

Bergad says it was Tanya Domi, director of media relations at the Graduate Center, who made this happen. Domi identified the newsworthiness of the CLACLS data and brought it to Cynthia Hudson, senior vice president and general manager of CNN en Español. Bergad emphasizes that CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson, who has made voter registration one of his missions, gave this collaboration great support.

Hudson says the center’s findings are delivering “a wealth of details, sometimes overlooked.” She adds, “the data become a backdrop for a bigger conversation on the reality of the new Latino population. For example, there is growth in states like South Carolina and Virginia. How does this influence the electoral outcome?”  In speaking more about the larger conversation, Hudson spoke about the significance of “a Latina mother urging her 18-year-old son to vote. “If you are reaching Latina moms it is very important. They influence their children.”

During an informal discussion in his office in June, Bergad spoke about a once inconceivable possibility. That Arizona — the home of Barry Goldwater — could be a swing state in the upcoming presidential elections. The Latino vote could turn it Democrat.  Within weeks, the channel did one of its monthly reports with Bergad and then told the story of a 54-year-old woman from Phoenix, Mercedes Zamudio, a Mexican immigrant who wants to become a citizen so she can vote for the next president. It detailed her efforts to study for the citizenship exam, both in classes and with help from her 7-year-old niece. And then it bolstered the decision to use her as a subject with data from the center. (Coincidentally, the August 1 issue of the New Yorker included a story: “Can Latinos Swing Arizona?”)

To spend an hour with Bergad in his office is to travel the Latino communities of the United States by numbers — and to hear how these numbers could signal major shake-ups in the election. He describes the way Florida has changed from a state where Cuban immigrants ensured Republican victories. But now their children often register as independents and vote Democrat. And then there is the factor that Cubans are no longer the majority Latino group in the state.

The best way to understand how the data works is to explore the CLACLS website at http://clacls.gc.cuny.edu.

Lawrence Capello, the center’s director of quantitative research, sums it up like this:

“Our research team also provides CNN en Español with in-depth reports that yield a better understanding of where exactly Latinos in the United States are located, their potential political influence on the state and national levels, and a host of other variables such as income levels, educational attainment, migration rates, sex ratios, age, and national origins.  Most organizations reporting on demographic trends use what’s called ‘canned data’ — or information that has been preassembled by one or two major data centers and can easily be found on the internet after a few google searches. CLACLS is different because our quantitative researchers work only with the original ‘raw data files’ collected annually by the U.S. Census bureau. Working with raw data allows us to approach social and political questions from multiple angles and look much closer at those things that shape both the obstacles and opportunities Latinos encounter in the United States today.”