This event was part of the symposium, The International and the Domestic - Latin America and U.S. Policies and Politics, which was made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
DAVID AYON: I'm going to repeat some of the things that you've heard several times today because it's my assigned role to do that as the moderator. My name is David Ayon, by the way, and I'm at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles, which is a research center at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles -- no surprise there. And as we wait for our speaker to join us I can say very quickly some of you may have come expecting to see Representative Henry Cuellar, who was announced as being in this session, but he was summoned home or forced to go home because of a massive hurricane with what I understand official warnings of certain death to those who do not pick up and move, and since he represents south Texas, southern Texas, he fled home yesterday to be in the state before the hurricane hits tonight.
Welcome to this session. Please, again, turn off as the instructions say -- do not just put on vibrate or stun -- your cell phones, Blackberries, and all wireless devices, and once again to remind you that this session is on the record which is not always the case with Council on Foreign Relations events. I'm about to introduce Arturo Vargas who, we are extraordinarily fortunate, has been able to join us for today's final session of this symposium.
There's hardly anybody better for this subject -- the growing Latino demographic -- than Arturo Vargas who -- you can find his bio the last page of the bios in the handout for today -- is the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, also known as NALEO. And if you've not heard of NALEO you may wonder well, how many Latino elected and appointed officials are there for it to have a national association with offices in Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York City, and I think the number is certainly over 5,000, maybe approaching 6,000 Latino elected and appointed officials. Arturo can correct me on that.
But going beyond his current position, Arturo's career has been intimately involved with this question of the Latino electorate, Latino communities, the Latino population. He began his career here in Washington with the Mexican American -- no, excuse me, with the National Council of La Raza -- NCLR. Went from NCLR to MALDEF -- the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- and at MALDEF was very strongly involved with MALDEF's efforts with regard to the counting of the Latino population -- the Hispanic population -- in the U.S. Census going back to the 1990 census, and the reapportionment and redistricting of all legislative districts that derive from the decennial census. And then went on from MALDEF to become executive director of NALEO. So Arturo, welcome, and thanks for joining us.
ARTURO VARGAS: Glad to be here. Good afternoon.
AYON: Is it 6,000 elected officials yet?
VARGAS: In terms of elected officials it's about 5,200 and there really is an untold number of appointed officials when you consider all state, city, county, you know, federal commissions and committees. But in terms of elected officials about 5,200, 27 in Congress, about 280 in state legislatures. The largest number of elected officials are school board members which reflects it being the first rung of the political ladder for many as well as I think the importance that education plays for the Latino community. It sounds like a lot -- 5,200 some elected officials. It is 1 percent of all elected positions in the United States and the concentration is heavily in the southwestern states. California and Texas combined account for about 60 to 70 percent of all Latino elected officials in the country, and you throw in New Mexico and you're up to close to 80 percent.
AYON: So this in fact actually reflects under representation in proportion to the population?
VARGAS: Exactly, and one of the things that we've seen of late though is an increase in the number of crossover candidates, and if we're going to increase the number of Latino elected officials in this country it's going to be because we have candidates that are able to attract non-Latino support and run (at ?) large elections. We're reaching that saturation level where state legislative districts and congressional districts that are majority Latino are largely represented already by Latino elected officials. Some notable exceptions are some congressional districts -- you know, a couple in Texas, a couple in California, one in New York -- but other than those generally all Latino majority legislative and congressional districts are represented by Latinos. So we're going to need crossover candidates -- people like Ken Salazar of Colorado, Bob Menendez in New Jersey, Governor Bill Richardson -- people at that level -- Mel Martinez.
AYON: Let's get to the demographic issues and numbers and projections because this made a lot of news last month. People probably heard or read about the most recent Census Bureau projections of the U.S. population projecting out to mid-century. Right now, the -- put it in round numbers the Latino population is about 45 million people out of 300 million plus, which means about 15 percent of the population -- the largest minority, so to speak, in the U.S. The most recent projections, which were published just a month ago, moved up the year by which the U.S. population is expected to become so-called majority minority. That is, it was moved up to 2042, before mid-century.
If there are 45 million Latinos today the projection by mid-century is an additional 86 million plus. That is nearly a doubling, proportionately from 15 percent today to about 30 percent by 2050. And so given the fact that I think a lot of people are aware that the Latino population in a number of significant areas of concern to public policy, such as educational attainment, health care, certain aspects of its participation in the work force, et cetera, is in fact in a disadvantaged position -- has lower levels of educational attainment, three times more likely not to have health insurance -- what are the policy implications of this very substantial -- this is the better part of U.S. population growth between now and 2050 -- on the part of the Latino population? What are the challenges there?
VARGAS: Well, a couple things, first, about the growth of the Latino population. This country grows by a person every 15 seconds. When you look at births, deaths, immigration, emigration, this country grows by one person every 15 seconds. Every 30 seconds that person is a Latino or Latina. So I sat down about three minutes ago so we have grown by six Latinos already in the past three minutes. So that is the growth, and the majority of them, by the way, born here. Not immigrated here, born here. And so when we look at the policy implications of what we do not refer to in NALEO as a minority population -- we refer to Latinos purposefully as the nation's second largest population group, second only to non-Hispanic whites -- (inaudible) -- really suggests then what is going to be the role of this large and growing population in the future of the country. And one of the things that we often try to communicate at NALEO is that as Latinos go, so will go the United States.
So if Latinos continue to be an undereducated population, unable to realize the American dream and achieve all the opportunities that this country has to offer for a variety of reasons, we do so at the peril of the future of this country because we cannot have a workforce that is made up of largely of Latinos and Latinas that is unprepared for the jobs that we have. I mean, to me one of the greatest ironies is that we have millions of Latinos and Latinas who are unable to complete high school. Our high schools are not succeeding in the education of Latinos and Latinas and we have an even smaller proportion of Latinos and Latinas going into higher education, getting graduate degrees. We're unable to educate our own people here and yet we're also desperate for people with technology degrees, for nurses, that we had to immigrate because we can't meet our own workforce needs for highly-skilled workers and we can't even produce them here. And if we're not going to produce them among the Latino community this country is at great risk.
AYON: Just going into some other policy areas, immigration policy was a whole panel that was conducted here and then it came up in each of the other two session. Does a growing Latino population have implications -- you just touched on one -- for U.S. immigration policy?
VARGAS: Well, the first thing about immigration, one is that it's an absolutely critical issue but one thing that is happening too much is that it is being linked too often as the single issue that Latinos care about. It's not. And especially if you delve deeper and talk about what do Latino voters care about, and by definition a Latino voter is a U.S. citizen, either born or naturalized, and when you talk to that segment of the Latino community and you ask, what's important to you immigration doesn't register first, second, third, or fourth as an important issue. It's an important issue for the community, and for many voters they probably have family members or community members for whom resolving immigration questions are important, but it's not a key policy issue. So I think one of the things that we do too much is we marry Latinos and immigration together as if they were a single-issue constituency.
Now, the way immigration is debated by candidates and campaigns is absolutely critical to Latino voters, and it's one of -- in our polling and conversations with Latino voters one of the drivers of the Latino electorate in this election cycle is the way that immigration has been debated in this country, and that more -- the more immigrants are demonized and the more people feel that a campaign or a candidate is being anti-immigrant the more it inspires people out of anger, out of fear, to come out and vote.
AYON: That's fascinating. Beyond immigration policy, the whole symposium has been about both the domestic and international aspects of issues that concern the Americas -- United States and Latin America. Does a growing Latino population have foreign policy implications for U.S. foreign policy, especially towards Latin America or vice versa?
VARGAS: Actually, it has it on a couple levels. One is we are making incremental increases in the number of Latino elected officials and certainly when we look at who serves in the House and the Senate we have a Latino perspective there so we have three senators -- Senator Salazar, Martinez, and Menendez -- all of whom have a particular interest in foreign policy and they are in a position to influence U.S. foreign policy, and they're going to do it looking through their lenses as Latinos. We also have a number of members of the House who have a similar expertise and the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Silvestre Reyes, is bringing his perspective as somebody on the border having grown up in El Paso and having served as the chief of the border patrol certainly brings those experiences and those lenses to how Congress is influencing foreign policy. That's on one level.
Another level is what do the community in general and what do Latino voters care about on foreign policy. This is the question that we put to them over the spring. We held eight town hall meetings with Latino registered voters -- likely voters -- people who told us they will vote in November. We had meetings in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, New York, Denver, and Albuquerque -- about 170 voters overall so focus groups essentially -- asking them what do they care about in this election.
The second issue that came up in conversations across the board in all these cities was the war in Iraq, and we don't think about Latinos so much dealing with foreign policy issues or concerned about our image overseas and what we're doing abroad, but when we asked this question of Latino voters that was their -- after the economy that was the next thing they wanted to talk about. And they saw it through a lens of misplaced economic priorities -- about how this country is spending so much on these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we're going without so much here in this country -- and many of them simply want their sons and daughters home and that there is a disproportionate number of Latinos serving in the military and many people are touched personally by the service of their sons and daughters abroad.
And so their concern over Iraq and the war in Iraq is something that is influencing Latino voters more in this election than non-Latino voters and even just in the most recent news coverage we keep hearing about how Iraq seems to be going down the scale of priorities for non-Latino voters in this election. It's all about the economy now. But when you ask Latino voters today -- and we are going to be issuing the poll soon -- on issues of Latino likely voters we continue to see Iraq right up there with the economy.
AYON: Well, it would come as no surprise that your organization, as it does represent Latino elected officials, you keep close tabs on the Latino vote -- on the Latino electorate. Tell us about the voter participation and the role of the Latino vote in this presidential electoral cycle so far and what you project for the fall.
VARGAS: One of the remarkable things that occurred this year was the change in the primary schedule and front loading primaries in some key states with more diverse electorates so it wasn't just Iowa and New Hampshire who were having a say but giving more voice to states like California and Nevada and others. And as a result, we had a historic turnout of Latino voters in primary elections to the point where the two candidates who are before us now for the presidency really are there because of the influence of the Hispanic vote in this country and in the primaries. Had no Hispanic voted in Florida in that primary, which put John McCain on the trajectory to win the nomination, Mitt Romney would have won by 16,000 votes. But because John McCain received 51 percent of the Hispanic vote he won by 95,000 votes, and Florida gave new life to his campaign. And so he understands that in many respects he's sitting now as the GOP nominee because of that victory and the Hispanic support in Florida.
The Democrats we all know weren't able to decide on their nominee because Senator Clinton had so much support all the way through the primary in Puerto Rico. For the first time, presidential candidates campaigning on the island of Puerto Rico, something we had never seen before at that level. It was Hillary Clinton's Latino support that kept her alive. Her being able to carry states like California and Nevada and Arizona and New Mexico and Texas, which was a contested state, her ability to carry those states generally by two-thirds support of Latino voters was able to have her continue her candidacy all the way through June.
So in many respects Latinos had defined these two candidacies -- these two primaries, Republican and Democrat -- and now the question is how will we define this come November 4th. Now, our projections are that 9.2 million Latinos will come -- will go to the polling locations -- the voting booth -- on November 4th. That will be a historic number. It'll be unprecedented. It'll be about 7 or 8 percent of all U.S. voters. We'll break new records. The truth is though that we're not doing as well as we need to be doing as a voting community.
There are 17 million Latinos who are eligible to vote in this country -- U.S. citizens of voting age. But nonetheless, there are two particular segments of the Latino electorate that we believe will be driving turnout come November 4th. One of them -- one of those segments will be naturalized citizens -- U.S. citizens by choice -- people who have taken an oath to this country, learned English, learned civics, passed the test, paid a fee, and have applied for and taken an oath to be a U.S. citizen. These are people who do not take voting for granted. In fact, naturalized Latino citizens outperform native-born citizens and outperform other demographic groups, and it's this segment of the electorate that has transformed politics in the state of California where we had a million Latinos become citizens in the 1990s, post-187 -- Proposition 187 -- and welfare reform. It fundamentally changed the nature of politics in California. That's why it's a blue state today. It's that segment that will be, we believe, driving people to turn out come November 4th.
Last year, we had a campaign at NALEO called (speaks in Spanish) It's Time! Citizenship! where we wanted to build on some of the enthusiasm we saw of the mass mobilizations in 2006 where millions took to the streets of America asking for fair and comprehensive immigration reform. Well, we wanted to build on that enthusiasm and convince as many of those folks as we could to apply for citizenship in 2007. We were hoping to inspire a million people to do so. One point four million people applied in 2007, and the USCIS itself acknowledges our campaign, which was in coordination with Spanish language media, as a primary reason why we had an unprecedented number of people applying to be citizens last year, and for the first time Mexican origin legal permanent residents were the largest group.
So there's something happening with this population and once they naturalize, they vote. My mom became a naturalized citizen in 1994 -- yeah, '94. She did so under the same kind of reasoning that we see people applying to be citizens today -- because they want to vote and they see becoming a citizen and voting as an act of self-defense -- as a way to have a voice in this process. When I asked my mom why did she become a citizen in 1994 after having lived here since 1952, she said because she wanted to vote against Pete Wilson. The following year she voted to legalize medical marijuana -- (laughter) -- and she hasn't missed an election since. (Laughter.)
The other driver of the electorate this year are Latino youth. I refer to those (last ?) mobilizations of two years ago. Many of the organizers were high school students -- 16 and 17 year olds who were out themselves marching, mobilizing, trying to speak on behalf of their parents, their grandparents, their uncles and aunts, older siblings, and they told us in 2006 today we march, tomorrow we vote. Well, tomorrow is here and we believe that we have now a new generation of young people who have come of age, of voting age, in a politicized environment with their consciences raised about what it means to have a voice in the streets and they're enthusiastic about voting for the first time in November.
So these two segments of the electorate we believe will be driving turnout on November 4th. Nine point two million is actually a very conservative projection on our part. Nine point two million would be the turnout if everything stays constant based on past presidential election performance of Latino voters. This is not an ordinary election obviously so we actually think we'll break our own projections and I hope we prove ourselves wrong. But a minimum 9.2 million Latinos will vote November 4th.
AYON: Isn't the big fact though about the big Latino population and in terms of its potential political influence is that it's really greatly concentrated in a few states? That is, I believe -- correct me if I'm wrong --California and Texas probably account for the majority of the entire Latino population.
VARGAS: More than 50 percent.
AYON: Another big state is Illinois. None of those three are competitive states so why would the candidates -- for two reasons -- why would the candidates pay attention to the Latino vote if they're concentrated in noncompetitive states? Putting Florida -- you talked about Florida but Florida seems to be a special case. Other than Florida, why pay attention to the Latino vote and why in particular would Obama pay attention to the Latino vote if most of Latino voters went with Hillary Clinton? Really, the impact on his candidacy was kept her in the race so long.
VARGAS: Right. Absolutely. And that's one of the perverse things about the way we elect presidents is that we ignore those states that we assume are going to be blue and going to be red and so why campaign in California, why campaign in New York, why campaign in the, you know, the red South if those are not competitive states. (Inaudible) -- just focus on Iowa -- I mean, Ohio and Michigan. Well, there's four key states that are in that competitive battleground category where the Latino electorate can absolutely make a statewide difference. It's not just Florida. It's Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico as well. In each of those three states, the Latino electorate far surpasses the margin of victory between Bush and Gore in 2000 and Bush and Kerry in 2004.
In Florida, the margin of victory for Bush over Kerry was 5 percent. Hispanic voters are 11 percent of the vote in Florida. In Nevada, the margin of victory between Kerry and Bush was 3 percent. Latino voters are 8.3 percent, and Latino voters in that state already demonstrated statewide impact when they were able to deliver votes to Hillary Clinton over Obama despite the fact Obama had organized among the unions in Nevada. New Mexico -- fully a third of all voters in New Mexico are Latino and the margin of victory was less than a percent in 2004, and in Colorado about 8 percent of all voters in Colorado are Latinos and the margin of victory between Bush/Kerry was 5 percent. So these will continue to be very competitive states and there will be aggressive efforts to turn out the Latino vote in these four states, and these four states could well hold the key to the election come November.
Now, ignoring the Latino vote, I think any candidate does that at his or her own peril because we're not going away. We're only going to continue to increase in our numbers of elected officials and as segments of the electorate in these nontraditional states and we're going to remember how much outreach and how much effort these candidates ultimately made to reach out to Latino voters.
Now, I'm a little optimistic about this because I had an opportunity to be in close contact with the campaigns of both Senators Obama and McCain and I know that both senators understand that they can't ignore this segment of the electorate and they are in somewhat of a conundrum because they're trying to figure out how do they reach Latino voters -- how do they communicate to them, message to them -- in a way that also does not alienate the rest of the population and don't appear to be pandering, and how do they do that and also deal with the issue of immigration because too often -- (inaudible) -- as I mentioned that they marry the two issues. Well, if they only go to Latino audiences and talk about immigration they're missing the boat because Latinos want to hear about so much other -- more as well. So there is some tricky balancing that Obama and McCain both need to do when it comes to this segment of the electorate, and we in NALEO are going to do everything we can to make sure they turn out November 4th.
AYON: Let me ask you one last sort of complicated question before opening it up to audience questions. Looking beyond the November election --and this brings it back full circle to things that you've done in the past -- you've talked about NALEO's naturalization campaign so you would have beyond 2008 presumably further efforts to naturalize even though we know that just last year the naturalization fee went up substantially and we've seen a dramatic drop off in the number of applications for naturalization that are being filed. Then comes actually just next year is the beginning of the 2010 census, which I assume that you're going to be involved in as well, and then the reapportionment of the Congress and redistricting of all legislative districts based upon the census.
I'd like to hear what you're doing about those things but also to address this item that was included in the GOP convention platform which calls for an end to reapportionment and redistricting at least on the federal level that includes the entire population including those who are undocumented, and as I understand by at least one press report if you were to deduct from those states that have large undocumented populations, such as California, that that could actually cost California six seats in Congress.
VARGAS: I haven't seen that figure but I wouldn't think it's implausible.
AYON: So tell me about beyond 2008 -- naturalization, census, reapportionment, redistricting.
VARGAS: Well, part of the work that we do at NALEO we're -- we believe that what we focus on is to strengthen American democracy by promoting the full participation of Latinos in American political life. Think of us as the U.S. Conference of Mayors meets the League of Women Voters in terms of being a membership association but also a civic engagement organization.
And so we have been mobilizing Latinos at a grass roots level to incorporate themselves in the American political life with the citizenship campaign that you mentioned and took it to a new level last year where we had the kind of results we did with the (speaks in Spanish) It's time! Citizenship! We're continuing this year with (speaks in Spanish) It's time! Register! It's time! Go and vote! And it's the same kind of messaging that we're trying to build on that inspired people to take to the streets two years ago -- that marching, having your voice heard, applying to be a citizen, registering to vote, actually voting is part and parcel of this empowerment strategy movement that we're organizing in the Latino community, and part and parcel of that has to be the 2010 census and the full enumeration of everybody.
As far as the GOP platform, it's unfortunate. It's unconstitutional. You know, I just literally got off the Metro from -- (inaudible) -- Maryland meeting with the director of the Census Bureau and the other brass over there about how do we coordinate our efforts with the Census Bureau's efforts to enumerate everybody, and we asked that question and the Census Bureau was absolutely clear -- that the Constitution requires enumeration of all people for purposes of reapportionment. So in order to realize the GOP's platform would really require amendments to the Constitution so I'm not too optimistic that that's going to happen anytime soon.
But nonetheless, the only way we're going to convince everybody to be enumerated, especially those who -- it's going to be a tough sell. If we do not realize comprehensive immigration reform in this country in the next administration, certainly in the first year of the next administration, and we continue to have 12 million plus people who are (not undocumented ?), you know, the Census Bureau's challenge is to convince them to fill out a form and report themselves to the federal government. This is exactly what we're going to be asking everybody to do and so our strategy is to message to this community overall, Latinos, that the census is as important as the marchers, as becoming a citizen, as voting, and being counted, and then after that will come reapportionment and redistricting.
AYON: Well, great. Thank you. I think we need to turn to inviting the audience to join the discussion, and as you heard before would you please wait for the mike to get to you and speak clearly into that, stand, identify yourself. Ambassador, here in front.
QYour demographic description and analysis is extremely interesting and it raises one question in my mind and that is how do you characterize the differences when you talk Latino community? I live in New York City and we have -- our Latino community is heavily Puerto Rican and Dominican. In Florida, especially in Miami, it's extremely large -- Cuban. In your part of the world it's obviously Mexican. Is that just one big Latino mass or don't they have major differences in attitudes, culture, et cetera, and how do you deal with that?
VARGAS: Oh, absolutely. The Latino community is a very complex and diverse population and you touch on some of the differences, national origin primarily -- Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Dominican, Colombian, Salvadoran, and the list goes on -- Caribbean nations as well. You should add to that nativity -- immigrant versus nonimmigrant -- and immigrants who have been here one generation versus immigrants who arrived here yesterday and then Latinos who have been here since before Plymouth Rock, or at least their families have.
So it's that kind of diversity that exists and, you know, I'll be honest -- there is something very useful to say there are 45 million Latinos you have to pay attention to rather than segmenting them into other demographics. But one of the things that I've had an opportunity to do in my role and certainly for the past 14 years as working at NALEO is to travel the country, and as much as I would like Los Angeles to be my part of the world I'm hardly ever there. I'm usually on a plane headed to some of these other communities. And as much as people tell me, well, we're different in Chicago -- we're different in New York -- we're different in San Antonio when it comes to Latinos -- (audio break) -- and when we ask people about why they will vote in an election we hear the same things from voters in Miami that we do in Chicago, is that they're voting because of their children and of their families, and that's an interesting distinction from non-Latinos because non-Latinos you ask them why do you vote they'll say, because it's my civic duty -- it's my responsibility to vote. It is my personal act. You ask Latino voters (in regard to some of ?) these communities and they come back with, I'm doing it on behalf of children, family, community. And it's those kinds of values that really do create a national Latino community. In spite of our diversity, there are some common values that permeate.
AYON: Well, luckily Latinos don't have hurricanes in common. Otherwise, we wouldn't have you here today either. (Laughter.) Somebody else. Yes, ma'am, over here.
QUESTIONER: Carmen Delgado Votaw, Pan-American Liaison Committee of Women's Organizations. Arturo, you made a fabulous presentation. To David's question to you about the effects of Latino participation in foreign affairs, I would like to add the added emphasis the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has on lifting the level of people who serve in the State Department and the development agencies and so on because in the '60s we had 2.3 Hispanics in the State Department. I think we've gone to 2.8 percent and that ain't enough. So that's going to be a thrust for our community to get more people, particularly those that have -- are blessed with two languages to be able to serve our country in different ways.
VARGAS: Right. Thank you.
AYON: Thank you for that comment. Yes, Julia?
QUESTIONER: Arturo, thank you very much for being with us today. I want to take you back to Florida and just press you a bit for the numbers in your analysis. You made the comment that John McCain's win in Florida of 95,000 votes total -- am I correct -- can be attributed to his support from the Hispanic population of Florida. Of that, what is the total number of Hispanic votes, if you will, in Florida and then of that I've got to ask you the Cuba question. How many of those votes were Cuban American because the three members of Congress in the House endorsed him and campaigned with him and just my kind of loose following of it was that he campaigned very aggressively on the Cuba issue but a lot less so on broader issues that the Latino voter would care about. So if I could just draw you out on that.
VARGAS: I --
QUESTIONER: And then -- sorry -- one related thing which is you said that both of the candidates are where they are today because of the Latino vote but I don't see how that's -- I understand that Latinos kept Hillary in the race as long as she was in the race but I don't understand how that plays for -- how Obama can say that he's there because of the Latino vote. Thanks.
VARGAS: Okay. I wish I had my Power Point. I have a hard copy here and I have the actual numbers on the Florida experience. The fact is that McCain got 51 percent of the Latino support in that state and that's what put him over. The other two candidates to get any kind of significant Latino support were Giuliani -- he got the second largest number of support -- and the third was Mitt Romney. So absent Hispanic voters, John McCain would have lost the state of Florida. Now, as far as Cuba, keep in mind this is a Republican primary. John McCain wasn't running among everybody. He was just running among the Republican faithful, and the Republican faithful in Florida for them Cuba is a key issue.
So, of course, that was going to be an issue and that's one -- again, one of the perverse things about how we elect a president. We do this primary campaign where candidates play to the extremes of their parties and then comes the general election they all come back to the middle and try to be centrists once again. And but one of the things about the Latino vote is that it really is a centrist vote. It's not an extremist vote if you look at how Latinos vote and they -- how they've crossed lines before and how, you know, many are Republicans and Democrats -- (inaudible) -- are swing voters.
So in many respects a general election favors Latinos because that's where they are. They're in the middle. As far as Obama, well, I'd say he is where he is because of the Latino vote because I think he has -- and I think he -- his campaign understands this -- he has ground to make up if he's going to win the White House with those Latino voters. He is in the situation he's in because he did not have their support largely in the primaries and that's why his campaign tells us that he's -- they're going to spend $20 million on Latino outreach alone. I haven't seen it yet. I'm eager to see if it materializes but they're claiming they're going to invest $20 million just on Latinos.
AYON: Where are Latino party preferences and candidate preferences now, if you can speak to that just very quickly?
VARGAS: Well, I'd say generally 15 to 20 percent of Latino voters nationally -- and there are some regional distinctions, certainly in Florida, although Florida is changing when you look at the central part of the state -- 15 to 20 percent are Republican, about 50 percent registered Democrats, and an increasing number of independents or decline to state. And in fact the more recent a person registers to vote the more likely they are to be registering as an independent or decline to state and that's some of the analysis that we've been following certainly out of states like California and some of the others where we do our work -- that Latinos are becoming less and less partisan faithful and more in that middle independent voters.
And as far as their performance, you know, there are some notable elections where Latinos have crossed party lines to make a statement. You know, they -- one of the probably more famous examples is Bloomberg's election where Green, who was then I believe the city comptroller, really told the Latino leadership and the ambassador from Mexico -- (inaudible) -- you were in New York at the time as I recall -- really told the Latino political leadership, I don't need you. And so they said fine, you don't need us -- we're closing up shop. And Latino voters stayed home or voted for Bloomberg, and they made a statement that you can't win in New York without Latinos.
So there's some sophistication to Latino voters where they will cross party lines. You know, California -- Arnold Schwarzenegger in his recall election he got huge Latino support over a Latino candidate who was on the ballot at the same time -- Cruz Bustamante, lieutenant governor. So they showed that Latinos -- they're not just going to vote the last name or the party.
AYON: Phillip Brenner?
QUESTIONER: Thanks. To underscore a point you just made, in Florida Mario Diaz-Balart is being challenged very severely by Democrat Joe Garcia, and Garcia's campaign essentially is saying what you have in Mario Diaz-Balart (is a noun, a verb, Fidel Castro ?) and Latinos have other interests besides Cuba and he's running on a range of issues and he has a good chance of winning. But I want to take something you said earlier about Latinos are 45 million but we're segmented but we try to think as one, and take this issue of race because in fact there is common ground with African Americans that Latinos have not had. In fact, this is Obama's problem.
The -- in the current issue of "New York Review of Books" Andrew Hacker, a very good sociologist, makes a very telling point about the way in which African Americans are going to be disenfranchised in the current election by virtue of the Supreme Court ruling in the Indiana case so states can require a driver's license or equivalent in order to be able to vote, and states inclined to disenfranchise blacks are likely to use this, he argues. I would say they're likely to disenfranchise Latinos as well, and so the question I have after this long introduction is has NALEO thought about ways in which it can help Latinos obtain these kinds of identification so that they are not disenfranchised.
VARGAS: Are you talking about actual --
QUESTIONER: Helping them -- helping them get to motor vehicle bureaus because sometimes if you're living in a rural area the motor vehicle bureau is in the main city. You can't get your driver's license.
VARGAS: Right. Well, actually I think that the candidates -- I mean, not the candidates -- the voters who are actually physically disenfranchised in Indiana in recent elections were some elderly white nuns who were cloistered who came out to vote, and because they had been cloistered for so long had no government IDs and could not vote. I think that was -- that was pretty widely reported.
QUESTIONER: Proportionately Latinos have a low percentage of people who have driver's licenses.
VARGAS: Right. Right. And the answer is no. We don't have a campaign right now to tell people go out and get a driver's license -- go out and get a government ID. We haven't done that. Truth be told, our efforts have been more on trying to keep these laws from getting put in place and that's where our priorities have been. But if we get to the point of where there is no recourse certainly we will not just be encouraging people to have IDs if that's the case but more than anything we're going to be following how these laws are implemented by these states because one of the things that we know is that more Latinos are disenfranchised not out of malice but out of the misadministration of elections -- by poll workers who aren't properly trained, by polling locations who although they're required by federal law to provide language assistance do not, polling locations that are not accessible. It's the misadministration of elections that is more disenfranchising people than actual maliciousness.
So one of the things that we are going to do on election day is we have a voter protection program. We have a national bilingual hotline that will be working the weeks up to election day and all day election day beginning 5:00 a.m. Pacific so we can catch the folks out here on the east coast, and we have a national partnership with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law where we will have at the ready attorneys throughout the country. So should anything happen -- any irregularities or anybody being turned away and we will be aggressively educating folks about our toll-free number to call to report so that we can follow up on demand.
AYON: Is there another question? I see the ambassador has another one.
QUESTIONER: I hate to take two questions. There should be a lot of questions in the room. But the statement was made that after your mother became a citizen she voted twice and she had two issues that she voted on, and you also then commented and said that one of the things that you see now is that with these young 16 and 17 year olders mobilizing people to register and get out that vote that once a Latino has registered to vote they vote, and getting -- or maybe you said when they become a naturalized citizen they vote, and you mentioned that there were 17 million eligible to vote but even with all the pressure that's being exerted only about 9.1 are voting. What happened to that other 7.9?
VARGAS: That's what I get paid to figure out -- (laughter) -- and to figure out how do we inspire the rest of these folks to become voters and, when we go out and we do our focus groups and our polling what we find is that many of these people have lost faith in the system. They think that their lives are not changed by politics. They think that politicians come and go and their lives continue just as they are and that their votes don't matter.
I actually have a cousin who just, you know, last weekend came out to me as a nonvoter and that she said -- and she knows what I do for a living and she was embarrassed over Sunday brunch to tell me that she needed to be, you know, to let me know that she had never registered to vote in her life. She's 32 years old. But that she has been so inspired by what has been gone on this election that she's registered and she's going to vote in November. So it's that kind of engagement we need to do to bring people into the process. When we do our voter outreach we ignore likely voters. People who vote all the time, we don't spend any resources trying to contact them because candidates and campaigns do. We focus on those people who are registered to vote and who don't vote, and that's depending on an election anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of Latinos on registration rolls.
AYON: Did you tell your cousin she's now going to get calls for jury duty?
VARGAS: That's right. (Laughter.)
AYON: I see a hand way in the back. Andrew Seeley?
QUESTIONER: Hi, Arturo. A quick question for you -- good to see you. Is there anyone that's trying to do any polling on -- you had mentioned the difference between recent immigrants and native-born Latino voters as well as long-term immigrants (I mean ?) who've been here a long time. Is anyone trying to do any polling on this because we have (a scent ?) a little bit about how people with different nationality backgrounds vote -- we don't have much sense on whether -- I mean, the Republican Party has thought that they might have a potential group of voters out of recent immigrants who might be closer to Republican values. On the other hand, they're also the people closest to the immigration debate who may have some concerns about the Republican Party. Has anyone looked at this in polling or is anyone planning to do any exit polling on this because it'd be a fascinating question to know.
VARGAS: I think probably David is better situated to answer that question than I am.
AYON: That sort of national origin breakdown?
VARGAS: No, nativity. Polling by nativity.
AYON: Oh. That's something that you know better than I do. (Laughter.)
VARGAS: Okay. All right. Well, not enough -- not enough. But I -- there obviously are distinctions between immigrant voters and native voters. In terms of this election, it'll be interesting to see what evangelical Latinos do. We have an evangelical candidate in the GOP's vice presidential nominee. (There are ?) very socially conservative vote. So it'll be interesting to see, you know, and on the -- two years ago the whole issue of marriage -- gay marriage -- Latino evangelical voters were a focus of outreach to bring them out to vote on this issue. So there'll be some distinctions but as far as polling not enough has been done and not enough I've done to be able to really go into detail on it unfortunately.
AYON: Is there another question? Because if there's not I'm going to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for having organized this terrific symposium today and in particular Julia Sweig and Shannon O'Neil of the Latin America program, and I know that Shannon O'Neil has some final words.
MS. O'NEIL: Well, first -- (inaudible) -- I thank all of you for coming here today and, you know, we've always known that the United States looms very large in Latin America and on Latin American policy and policy outcomes, but hopefully today in our discussions we've seen that Latin America also has really serious implications for the United States, for U.S. policy, and for the outcomes here. And, you know, as we're all moving forward to a historic election in two months a lot of the issues we've talked about today be it immigration, energy, trade, and the very people in the United States are going to be on the table for the next administration.
So on behalf of the Council we look forward to pushing these issues forward and talking more about them in the months to come, and really we want to thank all of our speakers and panelists and you for coming today and joining us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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