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Politics

Latinos could be voting Republican now if it weren't for immigration




Sun Valley residents wait in line to vote at the polling station located at Our Lady of The Holy Church on election day at the Sun Valley's Latino district, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012
Sun Valley residents wait in line to vote at the polling station located at Our Lady of The Holy Church on election day at the Sun Valley's Latino district, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

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It makes sense to believe that Latinos are a growing political force in California: more than a quarter of all eligible voters are Latino.

But it's also true in states that you wouldn't expect like Massachusetts and Ohio.

At the moment, they only make-up single digit percentages in several southern and midwestern places, all brought there by manufacturing and agricultural jobs and a better quality of life.

"But in a year with a lot of particularly close contests, places like Kansas and Georgia, it is possible -- even likely -- that Latino voters could provide the margin of victory," says Gary Segura, professor of political science at Stanford University and co-author of the new book, "Latino America."

It's a lesson for politicians in those parts of the country: what can they learn from California's own boom in the Latino population, and how can they capitalize on that as the faces of their own constituents change?

"Between 1980 and 1994, every year the Latino population in California was getting more Republican," says Segura. He says that as they achieved economic mobility and entered the middle-class, Latinos tended to vote for the GOP.

However in 1994 Prop 187 hit the scene, which would have blocked off social services from those who entered the country illegally.

In response to the overwhelming anti-immigrant and sometimes-racist sentiment by the measure's supporters, Latinos of different nationalities and age-groups banded together and overwhelming became democratic.

"Second, there was a huge boom in Latino voter registration that fundamentally changed politics in the state," says Segura, "so the Republicans really shot themselves in the foot on this issue. The Republicans could be doing better than they are now."

In states where Latinos currently make up just a sliver of the population, he says politicians need to pay attention right now to the tone they're setting on immigration reform measures.

That's because millions will become eligible to vote in the years to come: some second-generation immigrants will turn 18, while others who are already eligible to vote will become older and more likely to head to the polls.

"It's too late for 2014, it's probably too late for 2016, but the first step to rebuilding the GOP's brand among Latinos is to do no more harm," says Segura.