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Economy Drives Hispanics to Polls

Hispanic Business, News Report, Jessica Haro Posted: Nov 04, 2008

In an historic, high-stakes election where voters will choose a new president, the experts agree that the frazzled state of the economy is driving what may turn out to be a record number of Hispanics to the ballot boxes today.

Nonpartisan think tank the William C. Velasquez Institute estimates that between 8.5-9.5 million Hispanic voters will turn out for today's election -- an increase of 1-2 million more than in 2004. The number one issue that is expected to drive that record turnout hearkens back to the placard hanging Bill Clinton's campaign office during his presidential run: "It's the Economy, Stupid."

"From the polls that we've been conducting we've found that the economy is the top issue for Hispanics," said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "The other top issues Hispanics are concerned about are education and healthcare, but job loss and decreased employment opportunities have led Hispanics to focus on the economy."

Across the country, voters will choose between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain for president and a host of other local and state propositions.

In California, the intense debate over Proposition 8, which if approved would make it illegal for people of the same sex to marry, was also expected to drive high voter turnout.

The excitement about the historic nature of this election, according to the United Farm Workers of America was also a driving force behind Hispanic voter turnout.

The UFW believes the major issues influencing the Hispanic vote are immigration reform, and "fear about our economic troubles and the war."

Eric Wagner, manager of media relations at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund, agrees that the war is an issue important to Hispanic voters. "Latino voters also care deeply about the war in Iraq," he said. "There is a sense of misplaced priorities with so many needs here at home. While Latinos proudly support our sons and daughters serving in the military, they want a resolution that will bring them home."

Mr. Wagner emphasized the role that family plays in casting votes: "There is tremendous interest among Latinos in the election because the issues facing families and communities are so important. That's why we've seen record Latino voter turnout in the primaries and we'll it today on Election Day."

The main issue facing Hispanic families is, of course, the economy. "In our town hall meetings with registered Latino voters in eight cities across the country this past spring and more recently with our survey of Latino voters in the four battleground states of Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, the economy is at the forefront of the issues that Latino voters care about," said Mr. Wagner.

Mr. Wagner also listed healthcare, education and comprehensive immigration reform as some of the other issues Hispanics prioritize in the voting booth.

That Hispanics are most concerned with the economy is nothing new, according to Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza.

"Consistently the top issues for Hispanics are the economy and education, and it is the same this year," she explained. "We have also seen healthcare rise up that scale."

Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, echoes the clear consensus: although the war in Iraq, healthcare, immigration, and energy are important issues to Hispanics, "The number one issue is the economy."

Though the other issues played a larger role earlier in the election, the recent turn from a slowing economy to an economic crisis has changed everything.

"What has really been on peoples' minds for the last three months is the state of the national economy," he said. "There is really a desire to bring real change that will turn the economy around. It has been the underlying theme all year, and now it has gone from being the top issue to the only issue."

While Hispanics are often characterized as being most concerned with immigration policy, like the rest of the population, their number one issue is the economy. It may not be ranked as high as education and healthcare, but the experts agree that immigration always has some influence on the Hispanic vote. The cultural emphasis on family, however has trumped immigration as Hispanics worry about their ability to support a family in these tough economic times.

Will the results of today's vote bring about the economic stability Hispanics seek? The answer could be only hours away.

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