Ethnic Cues: The Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Participation

Ethnic Cues: The Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Participation

by Matt Barreto

Paperback(New Edition)



"New theoretical propositions, original data, and rigorous empirical tests are what one looks for in cutting-edge social science. Fortunately, all three are apparent in Ethnic Cues. The author has pushed his thinking to develop new ways of understanding and explaining patterns of Latino voting behavior."
—-Luis Ricardo Fraga, University of Washington, Seattle

"Matt Barreto investigates some of the ramifications of two new related developments in American political life: the stunning growth of the Latino immigrant population in recent decades and the accompanying exponential explosion in the number of Latino candidates running for political office at the local, state, and national levels."
—-Reuel R. Rogers, Northwestern University

Until recently, much of the research on political participation has resisted the idea that Latino voters rely on ethnic cues. The discussion has become increasingly salient as political strategists have learned to define individual voting blocs and mobilize them in support of a candidate. Nourished by the debate over immigration, the search for the Latino voter has now blossomed into a national political obsession.

Against this background, Matt A. Barreto assays the influence of ethnic identification on Latinos' voting behavior. Barreto asks whether the presence of co-ethnic candidates actually does mobilize Latino voters in support of these candidates. His analysis of in-depth candidate interviews, public opinion surveys, official election results, and statistics finds that it does. He goes on to describe the dynamic of voting in the Latino community and sharpens our appreciation of how ethnic considerations influence the electoral choices of Americans more generally. In a time of intensely focused campaign appeals, Barreto's work has much to tell us about the mechanics of public opinion and the role of race and ethnicity in voting behavior.

Matt A. Barreto is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and Director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality (WISER).

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472034956
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 01/13/2012
Series: The Politics of Race and Ethnicity Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 196
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Matt A. Barreto is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and Director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality (WISER).

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Ethnic Cues

The Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Participation

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2010 University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-03495-6

Chapter One

Assessing the Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Behavior

In 1960, Henry B. Gonzalez was elected to the U.S. Congress from a heavily Hispanic district in San Antonio, Texas. As the only elected official of Hispanic or Latino descent in the House of Representatives, Gonzalez had both enormous and little influence. Within the Chicano community, he was the key voice on Mexican American politics and gained immediate prominence, but in Washington, D.C., he was but 1 of 435 representatives and found it difficult to make himself heard. Gonzalez was soon joined by Edward Roybal, elected to Congress in 1962 from California; Eligio "Kika" de la Garza, elected from Texas in 1964; and Herman Badillo, elected in 1970 from New York. With these four men from three different states, Latino politics and Latino politicians were born in the United States, although it was still too early to identify "Latino politics" per se. In 1976, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) was formed, which led to the creation of the nonpartisan CHC Institute two years later. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) was founded in 1980, and by 1990, the number of Latinos in Congress had grown to seven. During these formative years, practitioners and scholars of Latino politics focused more on the modes of Chicano representation in the political system than on the consequences of Latino candidates on the ballot (see, e.g., F. C. Garcia and de la Garza 1977; Rocco 1977). With fewer Latinos running for office than African Americans in the 1970s and 1980s, research on ethnic candidates, ethnic voters, and shared ethnicity has not flourished within Latino politics as it has within studies of African American politics (see, e.g., Tate 1993; Dawson 1994; Swain 1995; Gay 2001a).

Scholars interested in American racial and ethnic politics may not have foreseen the growth in the Latino population and Latino political participation. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, millions of African Americans registered to vote for the first time, and research on Black voting and Black candidates burgeoned during the 1970s and 1980s. Issues of civil rights, housing discrimination, busing, and affirmative action dominated not only the Black-White racial agenda but also political science scholarship. However, another historic piece of legislation passed the same year, the Immigration and Nationality Act, fundamentally changed the course of American racial and ethnic politics. Writing about ethnic politics in 1965, Wolfinger noted the persistence of national-origin identity among European ethnics but reminded us that "mass immigration ended more than fifty years ago" (896), suggesting that even European ethnics might eventually assimilate into Anglo America. Instead, the 1965 Immigration Act abolished national-origin quotas, provided visas for family reunification, and resulted in a sharp increase in the number of Asian and Latin American immigrants, adding new facets to the Black-White race debate. Most notably, the Latino population in the United States grew from about 3.5 million people (about 2 percent of the total) in 1960 to more than 45 million (15 percent) in 2007. While this growth has been fueled by immigrants, the number of naturalized Latino citizens has also grown considerably over the past thirty years (Pachon 1987, 1999). Moreover, the fastest-growing segment of the American electorate is Latino registered voters, estimated to top 10 million in 2008. There is no question that the dynamics of race and politics have changed in this country, and scholarship and research must keep pace.

In the 1930s and 1940s, scholars including Gosnell (1935), Myrdal (1944), and Key (1949) began to examine the impact of race relations on America's politics and future well-being. These researchers examined the extent to which Black political participation differed from that of Whites and noted the significance of a voter's race in models of political behavior (Alt 1994). Dahl (1961) took up the question of ethnicity, and scholars of racial and ethnic politics began to examine its effect on political behavior. Distinct from Dahl's or Wolfinger's research on "ethnic politics," research on race was prominent among political scientists interested in African American political incorporation. Empirical research on Black politics found that race significantly affects voting behavior; however, the impact of ethnicity—particularly with regard to Latinos—has been less conclusively documented.

Before the rise in studies of Latino politics, research prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act typically examined dissent or protest in light of the fact that African Americans lacked full voting rights. Carmichael and Hamilton argue that "solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength in a pluralistic society" (1967, 44), a statement consistent with Piven and Cloward's (1979) argument that race provided an important linkage for poor blacks who felt alienated by the status quo and organized protest movements around their shared racial experiences. More recently, work by Tate (1993), Dawson (1994), and Walton (1994) has made the case that beyond protest, racial attitudes and issues are a significant factor in understanding Black voting trends. Simply put, race identification "significantly shapes Black political behavior" (Tate 1993, 165), and "racial group politics remains salient for African Americans" (Dawson 1994, 11).

Rather than focusing only on research in Black or Latino politics, this book builds on broader studies of identity politics and in-group identification. Mansbridge (1986) and Cook (1994) have found that female voters are more interested in campaigns when female candidates or issues (e.g., the Equal Rights Amendment) are present. Work in comparative politics has determined that ethnic minorities in Canada (Landa, Copeland, and Grofman 1995), Australia (Jupp 1997), the Netherlands (Rath and Saggar 1992), and Romania (Shafir 2000) are often persuaded by ethnic appeals and vote as a bloc for ethnic candidates. Even nonethnic interest groups such as labor unions have been well documented as playing an important role in mobilizing their members as a cohesive bloc when labor-friendly candidates emerge (Uhlaner 1989a). While research on African American and other group voting trends has found that in-group identification can matter to voting behavior, work on Latino voting has generally not concurred. In fact, some observers have argued just the opposite—that shared ethnicity is not a key mobilizing force in Latino political behavior—instead focusing on partisanship as the dominant factor (Cain and Kiewiet 1984; Graves and Lee 2000; Michelson 2005; de la Garza 2005). Most notably, in a summary of Latino political behavior, de la Garza states, "As was true in 1990, in 2004 Latinos do not behave as a political group united by ethnicity. Latinos do not see themselves as united politically and they report that they will not vote for a candidate because of shared ethnicity" (2005, 16).

This book examines the question of whether ethnic identification affects Latino voting behavior. Specifically, does the presence of Latino candidates mobilize the Latino electorate, resulting in elevated turnout and strong support for the co-ethnic candidates? While some scholars—most notably, Hero (1992)—have provided a strong theoretical basis for such a claim, no comprehensive body of empirical evidence has suggested that ethnicity is salient for Latinos, and no coherent theory exists for separating out the role of co-ethnic candidates and the role of party affiliation. Indeed, de la Garza states that ethnicity has no influence whatsoever even though numerous case studies available in court transcripts of expert witness testimony strongly support the idea that Latino voters are mobilized by Latino candidates (see, e.g., Garza v. Los Angeles County; Ruiz v. Santa Maria; Martinez v. Bush).

In an extensive review of research on Chicano voting behavior, J. A. Garcia and Arce argue that no consensus exists about whether ethnicity affects voting patterns, suggesting that more research is needed. They write that "strong cultural attachments have been found to be associated with either political isolation and distance, or heightened ethnic group consciousness and politicization[, and] current research efforts are still sorting out their directional effects" (1988, 130). However, in the twenty-first century, two significant developments have changed the way we think about Latino political participation. First, the 2000 presidential election marked the first time that both political parties conducted extensive outreach to Latino voters. Second, many high-profile Latino candidates ran for political office across the nation and demonstrated an even stronger commitment to Latino voter outreach.

In 2001, Latino mayoral candidates in the several of the nation's largest cities ran vigorous and competitive campaigns that seemed to generate political excitement among Latino voters. In New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston, "Democrats and Republicans got a reminder that Hispanic voters are a fast-growing and crucial swing vote tied more closely to ethnic than party loyalty" (Lester 2001). Viable Latino candidates garnered national media attention in the fall 2002 New Mexico and Texas governors' races as well as the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election. Elsewhere, Latino mayoral candidates surfaced in cities not traditionally considered to have significant Latino influence, including Bloomington, Indiana; Las Vegas; and Wichita, Kansas, and Latinos were elected for the first time to city councils and state legislatures in Georgia, North Carolina, and North Dakota. In 2006, the number of Latinos in the U.S. Senate jumped from zero to three. According to NALEO, nearly one thousand more Latinos held public office in 2008 than in 1998, and thousands more had run for office and lost. Simply stated, cities and states across the nation are witnessing increases in both Latino candidates for office and Latinos who are winning election (see table 1.1). The growth in Latino candidates creates a political environment that may result in higher rates of voting and strong support for Latino candidates by Latino voters. This volume does not seek to explain the success of Latino candidates for office but rather to assess these candidates' impact on the behavior of Latino voters.

Studies by Ambrecht and Pachon (1974) and Garcia and de la Garza (1985) demonstrate that previous research on Latino political behavior has downplayed the role of shared ethnicity in models of participation and vote choice. Ambrecht and Pachon note that "the oversight of ethnicity in American life over recent decades has been primarily attributed to the assimilationist ideologies present in this society vis-à-vis its ethnic groups" (1974, 500). Despite the prominence of the assimilationist approach as a theory, they argue against it and call for more research on the topic of ethnic politics in the Mexican American community. While claims emerged that ethnicity might be salient, it has not yet been thoroughly investigated. For example, J. A. Garcia and Arce note that "ethnicity in its various dimensions ... should prove to be very important in explaining the extent of Chicano political participation" yet conclude that "these orientations do not translate into higher rates of participation" (1988, 126, 148). Thus, attempts to understand the lower rates of turnout among Latinos have often focused on lower levels of resources (DeSipio 1996a) and lower levels of civic skills (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995) within the Latino community, leaving much room for improvement in explaining the Latino vote. This book presents two improvements in modeling Latino political behavior: (1) controlling for the presence of Latino candidates; and (2) accounting for shared ethnicity as a mobilizing factor. I argue that the electoral context surrounding the campaign of a Latino candidate creates a mobilizing force, resulting in higher rates of Latino voting and strong levels of support for the co-ethnic candidate. This electoral context may include endorsements by prominent Latino leaders, more in-depth coverage of the election by Spanish-language media, registration and mobilization drives by Latino civic organizations, and campaign appearances by Latino candidates at Latino churches, union halls, and schools. Further, the effect should hold after controlling for standard predictors of political participation and partisanship. How Latino candidates change the larger electoral context is underexplored in the current literature. Figure 1.1 addresses this deficit and depicts the relationship between ethnic candidates and ethnic voters, an important foundation for examining Latino voting behavior. Simply stated, voters encounter two types of elections, those in which a Latino candidate does and does not appear on the ballot. While our previous understanding of Latino participation relies heavily on elections with no Latino candidates, the future of American politics is much more likely to witness elections with viable Latino candidates.

In fact, the bulk of research on Latino political behavior emanates from an era in U.S. politics in which very few viable Latino candidates ran for office; thus, the general findings with respect to Latino political engagement downplayed the role of shared ethnicity. Latino politics takes on a new perspective in the twenty-first century: prominent Latino candidates for public office are increasingly commonplace, yet Latinos continue to face discrimination and underrepresentation. The basic argument in this book rests on two theories: first, ethnic candidates increase the level of psychological engagement and interest in the election among ethnic voters (Dahl 1961; Parenti 1967; Tate 1993, 2003); and second, ethnic candidates direct more resources to mobilize voters in ethnic communities (Guerra 1992; Leighley 2001). While not all ethnic candidates publicly run "ethnic campaigns," the popular media are quick to report candidacies through racial or ethnic lenses, leading minority and White voters to assess the election in racial terms even if the candidates do not (see, e.g., Reeves 1997). In instances where candidates and campaigns make strong ethnic appeals, the argument is quite clear; yet even when ethnicity is not on the front page, Latino candidates are still likely to reach out to co-ethnic voters and are likely to promote issues that resonate with Latino voters. If anything, these phenomena may bias the data against my findings, making it more difficult to find mobilizing effects without knowing the exact details of every Latino candidate's campaign for office. However, if Latino voters are more likely to vote when Latino candidates are running for office and are more likely to support Latino candidates, it is reasonable to conclude that the theoretical assumptions are accurate.

However, the effect may not be the same for all Latino voters, and we should therefore try to include a measure of the degree of ethnic identification among voters. Building on theories of minority empowerment and racial incorporation, I make the case that for Latino voters with higher levels of ethnic identification, co-ethnic candidates increase the level of political awareness and interest in the election, increase the opportunity to be contacted and asked to vote, generate a sense of psychological engagement with the political system, and strengthen feelings of shared group consciousness (see, e.g., Miller et al. 1981; Uhlaner 1989a; Leighley 2001).

While a handful of studies have examined the connection between ethnicity and political participation, they have repeatedly concluded that no direct link exists for Latino voters. Both Cain and Kiewiet (1984) and Graves and Lee (2000) show that partisanship, not ethnicity, explains candidate preference for Latinos. DeSipio observes that "ethnicity will come to play less of a role in [Latino] political decision-making than will other societal divisions" (1996a, 8). In contrast, Hero's overview of Denver mayoral elections in the 1980s provides some evidence that Latinos will "vote for their own" (1992, 129) in a racialized political environment (see also Muñoz and Henry 1990). This book brings a variety of new evidence to bear on this question.


Why might Latinos have a sense of shared ethnic identity? Why is ethnicity more likely to matter in future elections? Individuals employ multiple forms of identification but nevertheless typically have groups of people with whom they have overlapping identities, such as language, cultural practices, religion, and race. Gordon argues that peoplehood is roughly "coterminous with a given rural land space, political government, no matter how rudimentary, a common culture in which a principal element was a set of religious beliefs and values shared more or less uniformly by all members of the group, and a common racial background ensuring an absence of wide differences in physical type" (1964, 23). The notion of peoplehood that Gordon describes can also be seen as an individual's ethnicity (from the Greek ethnos, meaning "people") and may encompass his or her race, religion, national origin, language, and more. Although ethnic identity is fluid, societies often develop fixed categories for identification that reinforce each identity as separate and unique and reinforce group members' attachment to their ethnic identity. For two hundred years, the U.S. census asked individuals to choose only one identity, despite many Americans' rich multicultural and multiracial history. Not until 1970 was the category "Spanish origin" added to the census, and not until the 2000 census did the federal government permit individuals to check more than one box, thereby allowing multiple identities to emerge (Masuoka 2008). The social constructions of group identification, whether real or not, guide individuals to take their places in groups and to act as group members. Miller et al. (1981) have found that group consciousness causes subordinated group members to join their group identity with a political awareness regarding their group's status, resulting in elevated levels of participation. This volume considers the extent to which Latinos act congruently on political issues.


Excerpted from Ethnic Cues by MATT A. BARRETO Copyright © 2010 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1. Assessing the Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Behavior....................1
CHAPTER 2. Latino Politics in the Twenty-first Century: A New Theory of Latino Political Behavior....................18
CHAPTER 3. Theory Meets Reality: Elite Perspectives on Latino Mobilization....................41
CHAPTER 4. Does Ethnic Identification Trump Party Identification? Evaluating Latino Vote Choice in a Hypothetical Setting....................67
CHAPTER 5. The Impact of Latino Mayoral Candidates on Latino Voters: New Evidence from Five Mayoral Elections, 2001–2003....................88
CHAPTER 6. Latino Candidates for State Legislature and Congress: How Multiple Co-Ethnic Candidates Affect Turnout....................119
CHAPTER 7. ¿Viva Bill Richardson? Latino Voters and the 2008 Presidential Election....................136
CHAPTER 8. Ethnic Cues and the New American Voter: Implications and Conclusion....................154

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