Latinos are the largest ethnic/racial minority population in the U.S. and are the largest ethnic/racial minority in 41 of the nation's 100 largest cities. Despite recent polls predicting low voter turnout among Latinos in November, Latino civil rights groups and civic participation coalitions say they're doing whatever it takes to counter voter apathy to get people motivated to vote come Election Day.
"We are urging Latino voters to take a stand for respect and against the attacks on our long and proud history," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of Immigration and National Campaigns with the National Council of La Raza. "We have an opportunity to show politicians who are blocking progress on issues that matter to our community, as well as those who stand on the sidelines while our community is under attack, that they need to start working toward solutions or get out of the way. These issues matter to all Americans, and fixing our immigration system, jobs, health care, and education is also part and parcel of fixing our economy."
According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll the Democratic Party's standing among Latino voters appears strong as ever. Two-thirds (65 percent) of Latino registered voter's say they plan to support Democrats in their local congressional district, while just 22 percent support Republicans.
In 2008 Latinos supported Obama for president over John McCain by 67 percent to 31 percent and are credited with making the difference in four crucial states: Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
However the recent poll shows Latino voters appear to be less motivated than other voters to go to the polls. One-third (32 percent) say they have given this year's election "quite a lot" of thought, compared to 51 percent of all registered voters who say the same. Only half (51 percent) of Latino voters say they are certain they will vote Nov. 2 compared to 70 percent of all registered voters.
Latino Republicans may be more likely to turn out and vote than Democrats, notes the poll. Some 44 percent of Latino Republicans say they have given this year's election quite a lot of thought compared with 28 percent of Latino Democrats.
Yet more than six-in-ten (62 percent) of Latino voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, while one-quarter (25 percent) says the same for the Republican Party. By wide margins, Latinos also say Democrats are more concerned about their issues over the GOP. And 65 percent favor Obama's job approval, while just 22 percent oppose.
Immigration - although an important topic of discussion among Latino voters - does not rank as the top voting issue among them. Rather, education, jobs and health care top the list. Meanwhile Latinos are among the highest in unemployment and foreclosure rates.
Some activists do argue that Latinos feel increasingly marginalized and targeted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric plaguing this year's election. Nearly one-third of all U.S. Latinos feel that racism and prejudice are dominating the current immigration debate, said Chris Espinosa, national director of Advocacy for the Hispanic Federation. "However, the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment is also moving Latinos to participate in the electoral process," he added.
"Latino voters must take stock of who is with us and who is against us," said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. "This is the moment to vote for leaders who will engage our issues, offer real solutions to our broken immigration system, and commit to building an economy that benefits all working families," he said.
The dramatic rise in the Latino population over the years has made an extraordinary impact in the social, economic, cultural and political complexion of American society. Many activists say it's a myth that Latinos are politically apathetic. In fact, they note Latinos are registering to vote at a rate six times greater than the general population.
Will Latino voters, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, make a difference come Nov. 2, despite predictions of general low turnout?
A coalition of Latino civil rights groups launched a campaign this week called "Vote for Respect" aimed at turnout through a series of new public service announcements, a national voter hotline, and stepped-up get-out-the-vote efforts focused on transforming voter anger into action at the polls.
"While midterm election years are often challenging, Latinos realize that there are many important issues at stake and we can't afford to sit this one out," said Rafael Collazo, national deputy director of Democracia U.S.A.
Photo: Latino voters at polling place in Santa Ana, Calif. Mark Avery/AP