Texas Tech University

New Study Shows Participation, Trust by Hispanics in Politics Has Room for Improvement

George Watson

November 3, 2016

HIspanic Voter

The study was conducted by the Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic & International Communication.

Latina Voter

A new report published by the Texas Tech University Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic & International Communication shows that, while Hispanic population in Texas continues to grow, the level of participation and trust in the political process has room for improvement.

The report, which surveyed 436 Hispanics of varying degrees of age, gender, education level, economic status and political views, found that participation in the political process, while having the ability to swing an election, remained at less than 50 percent. Hispanics' beliefs that participation in politics will positively affect their lives remains low, which impacts voter registration and voting.

Trust in both political parties and the various levels of government also scored low, and the survey also took into account the issues Hispanics consider most important.

“U.S. Hispanics are usually portrayed as disengaged from American politics, but there is little analysis as of what are the reasons for such a lack of participation,” said Magdalena Saldaña, assistant director of the Harris Institute. “Our findings show that political parties rarely approach Hispanics or show any interests in the issues they care about.”

Magdalena Saldaña
Magdalena Saldaña

Sleeping giant

Because the population of Hispanics is growing, it has been referred to as a “sleeping giant” because of its potential to swing elections at the local, state and national level. In 2012, a nationwide survey found that only 48 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, a number that fell to 39 percent in Texas. The Pew Research Center estimates that 4.8 million, or 46 percent, of Hispanics in Texas are eligible to vote.

However, demographic studies estimate Hispanics, which as of 2014 were estimated at 10.4 million in Texas, will outnumber whites in Texas by 2020 and will become the state's majority population by 2042. There is great growth potential for Hispanics to become an influential factor in future elections.

“The data reveal some underlying reasons for low levels of political participation by Hispanics in Texas,” said Kent Wilkinson, Harris Institute director. “For example, more than 60 percent of survey respondents who are eligible to vote said they were never contacted by either major political party; also, local, state and federal government along with Congress and political parties ranked at the bottom of U.S. Institutions in terms of trust.”

In terms of political participation by Hispanic voters, of those surveyed, only 24 percent indicated they always vote. Almost 40 percent indicate they never or rarely vote, and only 43.9 percent indicated they are interested or very interested in politics.

Kent Wilkinson
Kent Wilkinson

That lack of interest led, unsurprisingly, to a low level of participation in political activities. Very few participated in things such as signing a petition, contacting the media or a government official on issues, or commenting, forwarding or creating a social media post expressing a political view.

Similarly, few Hispanics actively campaigned for a candidate, whether it was talking to other voters, indicating support through signs, buttons or stickers, attending meetings, working in a candidate's office or giving money to a candidate.

A potential cause for that lack of participation could be a lack of trust in candidates, political parties and government. Of those surveyed, more than half (54.3 percent) feel government officials only care about themselves or special interests, and only 17.7 percent feel the government is truly interested in their opinions.

Not much effort has been made to mobilize Hispanic voters, the study found. Fifteen percent of those surveyed report being contacted regularly to participate in political activities. The report states those surveyed who identify as Democrats (171 respondents) have a more positive perception of their party than those who identify as Republicans (46), but that neither party has a strong relationship with Hispanic voters in Texas.

“Our report sheds light not only on political behaviors, but also on political preferences,” Saldaña said. “Considering Texas might become a swing state in this election, the fact that only 12 percent of Hispanics who participated in the survey identify themselves as Republicans is crucial.”

The issues

Respondents also were surveyed as to what issues are most important to them. The study found education, health care, the environment and the economy ranked as the most important issues while terrorism, foreign policy and the federal deficit are least important.

Of those surveyed, 84 percent felt a moderate or strong connection to the issue of education, while almost 77 percent indicated the same for the environment and the economy. Health care was important to more than 75 percent of respondents.

Conversely, foreign policy ranked last in terms of interest in the issue, coming in a 46.7 percent, followed by the federal deficit (42.2) and terrorism (41.3).

Still, the impetus is on political parties on all sides to make an even greater effort to increase participation by, and trust from, Hispanic voters, 45.4 percent of whom identified as independents.

“Given demographers' projections that Texas Hispanics will outnumber whites and become the state's majority population, we need to learn more about their attitudes toward, and involvement in, elections and civic affairs,” Wilkinson said.

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