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Leaderless Latinos?


Survey results for most important Latino leader in the U.S. (ordered from left to right by response frequency) show “Don’t know” the leader of leaders (see graph below)

Wooing and winning the Latino vote is now regarded as critical for any one seeking national political office. Implicit in any discourse on the subject is that there is such a thing as a coherent, homogeneous Latino voting bloc that can be appealed to by taking predictable stands on a standard set of “Latino issues.” But, is this assumption justified?

A recent (May 24 – July 28, 2013) survey conducted on behalf of the Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project (PRCHTP) attempted to clarify the situation by asking a nationally representative sample of 5,103 adult Hispanics questions that might reveal to what extent they see themselves as a unified political force with common causes. The survey results were summarized in a Pew report authored by Project director Mark Hugo Lopez and published last October. The findings were eye-opening. 

A number of survey items dealt with the uniformity of cultural identity and values among U.S. Latinos. When asked how they usually identified themselves, 20 percent said they preferred a pan-ethnic term, such as Hispanic or Latino; 54 percent identified themselves by their country of origin; and 23 percent usually referred to themselves as Americans. In response to a question about whether U.S. Latinos from different countries of origin shared similar values 39 percent answered that they shared most values, 39 percent said that they shared some values, and 19 percent felt that few, or almost no, values were shared by all groups.

Some of the patterns in these responses are well explained by the length of time the respondents had been in the U.S. More recently arrived immigrants felt more like outsiders and were less likely to feel part of American culture or of Hispanic cultural groups of different geographic origin.

However, the survey’s most striking finding was that the majority of respondents (62 percent) answered “Don’t know” to the question: Who is the most important Hispanic leader in the country today? Nine percent said that there wasn’t anyone. Among leaders named by the remainder, no one person was named in more than five percent of the interviews, with Sonia Sotomayor and Marco Rubio mentioned most often. When respondents named a leader, they tended to name one who had a connection with their own country of origin.

Are many U.S. Latinos simply politically disengaged, or is it more the case that emerging Latino leaders are not effectively tapping into the power in the plurality of the Latino demographic? Whichever, or if both, of these conditions prevail, the survey results suggest that there is a great need for media resources, like LPM, that draw attention to Latinos in positions of leadership and also provide a platform for leaders to reach out and explore the shared aspirations among all Latinos.

The survey question that elicited the most agreement was the one that asked: How important is it to have a national leader to advance the interests of the U.S. Latino community? A majority of the respondents (74 percent) said that it was “extremely” or “very” important. Although the percentage was somewhat higher among foreign-born Latinos than U.S.-born Latinos, overall, this result suggests that there is a yearning for a sense of shared identity and purpose, and it is exactly the job of leaders to satisfy this yearning.

See the entire report at pewhispanic.org/2013/10/22/three-fourths-of-hispanics-say-their-community-needs-a-leader/

Click here to read this story in our Digital Edition

This Article appears on the December 2013 issue of LPM under LP Journal

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