The pervading perception of Latino as “originating” from Latin America—from outside the U.S.—may thus explain the lower registration-to-eligibility ratio of Latino voters relative to voters of other minority groups. Indeed, while the number of Latinos registered to vote has grown in the last twenty years, it has not increased at the same rate as voter eligibility. Consider that 5.1 million Latinos were registered voters in the presidential election year of 1992 out of 8.3 million eligible voters, while 11.6 million Latinos were registered voters out of 19.5 million eligible in 2008. We must certainly account for possible momentaneous causes or accentuations to this trend, that is short-lived circumstances within the time frame of the trend, which may have reinforced it. Notable in the recent past, of course, is the economic recession in 2008 and particularly its dimension in the housing market. A Pew Hispanic Center study mentions that the housing crisis hit Hispanics harder than other groups, which may likely have caused them to move, raising complications in voter registration. But such singular and self-contained circumstances cannot explain the trend over the last twenty years.
It is interesting to ponder rather, whether it has been long enough since the advent of Latino immigration to the U.S. for “Latino” to have completely inserted itself in the anthology of American (i.e. belonging to the U.S.) cultures. It is conceivable that this would be true for later generations of Latinos who still share the cultural ways of the immigrants’ country of origin but who have lost a civil connection to their land of origin. This is in accordance with an observation made by Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent for PBSNewsHour, in Foreign Affairs that “[with] each successive generation, dwindling numbers of Latinos report an intention to return to Central or South America or the Caribbean”. These later generation Latinos may culturally relate to Latin America, but feel their civil duties—including voting—are owing to the U.S. Conversely, we might expect that immigrants, once naturalized and eligible to vote, may not feel patriotically compelled, or may feel daunted to vote.
With continuing waves of Latino immigration and increasing numbers of eligible, and naturalized, voters, we might expect a higher voter registration count. However, the discrepancy in the sense of entitlement to vote between naturalized and native Latinos will perpetuate the low registration-to-eligiblity trend.
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