The candidate's guide to the Latino vote

Do take the Latino vote seriously. Latinos are not only the fastest-growing population in the U.S., they are also the fastest-growing voter bloc. The Census results released this spring found that one in six Americans is Latin. More than one in four Americans under the age of 18 is Latino, 93 percent of whom are U.S. citizens. According to Democracia U.S.A., this means that half a million Latinos will turn 18 each year for the next 20 years.

Do take Hispanic concerns, especially immigration, seriously. The recent immigration debate among policymakers has been controversial, divisive, and corrosive, but it has not been serious about fixing the problem. Action on comprehensive immigration reform has been one of the sacrificial lambs of Washington gridlock. In the absence of federal action, states and localities have succumbed to extreme voices touting extreme proposals that score political points but do little more. Yet poll after poll shows that Hispanics and all Americans want Washington to stop politicizing or running away from the issue, get serious, and deal with immigration in a comprehensive, effective and humane way.

Do engage the Latino community. A good start is a solid, affirmative outreach operation that targets Latinos. However, Latinos should be involved at all levels of a campaign, especially in decision-making positions. The Hispanic community’s issues and concerns should also be addressed and incorporated into a candidate’s platform. And there should be a vision for what role Hispanics will play in any future administration or office.

Don’t write off the Latino vote. Candidates who believe that Hispanics are part of any party’s base are under a grave misapprehension. While it is true that most Hispanics are registered Democrats, history also shows that most are frequent ticket-splitters. Both President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush received more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in their reelection campaigns. Some analysts note that a Republican needs to receive 40 percent of the Latino vote to win the presidency. In fact, for many candidates in 2010, failing to engage the Latino voter cost them the election. So those who appeal to Latino voters early stand a better chance of ending strong.

Don’t demonize immigrants and Latinos. It is unconscionable to scapegoat a community and sow division and hate in American society. Pundits agree that the extreme anti-immigrant stances of several candidates in 2010 cost the Republican Party control of the Senate. Interviews with Latino voters in those key elections said they went to the polls to vote against such positions and tactics.

Don’t take the Hispanic vote for granted. Having an extreme, anti-immigrant opponent may lull some candidates into a false sense of security when it comes to the Hispanic vote, yet voter motivation and enthusiasm are critical in any election, and especially in 2012. Studies show that voters are more motivated when they have something to vote for rather than something to vote against.

Janet Murguía is the President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)