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by By Roger E. Hernández, September 2008
There's never been an election like this in U.S. presidential politics: one in which an African American is pitted against one of the oldest nominees ever. And the contest appears to be attracting an outsized interest among the public, with Hispanic voters caught up in the fervor too.
That excitement will translate to votes, according to an exclusive AARP poll of Hispanic registered voters ages 18 and over. Among respondents, 82 percent—and 88 percent of those ages 45 to 64—say they are "almost certain" to vote in November, with another 7 percent saying they probably will vote. Colorado resident Deann Martínez Pujol, who calls herself a "hard-core voter" and says she's never missed an election, agrees. "I have a friend who's never voted, but she's going to vote this year," says Pujol, 46. "Moderate people, even people who have been ambivalent or apathetic, are being mobilized."
In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center study found that Latino turnout rose sharply this past primary season, specifically in the Texas and California Democratic contests. But who they'll vote for is still a toss-up for four out of 10 Hispanic voters—and another 10 percent who have chosen a candidate say their support is weak—according to AARP's poll.
Among registered Latinos ages 65-plus, 45 percent say they're still undecided. While many haven't settled on a candidate, Hispanic voters are well aware of their growing political clout. Fifty-six percent say Latinos will play a larger role in deciding the elections this year than they did in past years.
"It's noteworthy that respondents believe Latinos will have a greater impact in this election than previously," says Rodolfo O. de la Garza, Eaton Professor of Administrative Law and Municipal Science at Columbia University and a vice president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. "This is a most optimistic outlook, given that their impact may be truly significant only in New Mexico."
Dr. de la Garza added that Latino voters historically have had little political influence, even in New Mexico, which is majority Hispanic. This year, however, he says he thinks they could turn the political tide in that state. Hispanics' positive attitude "suggests how American their views are" in believing they can create change, Dr. de la Garza says, especially considering that the AARP poll found that nearly eight out of 10 respondents believe the country is on the "wrong track," and that 41 percent cited "the economy and jobs" as the most important issue facing them.
"This positive attitude is somewhat surprising, given that older Hispanics are the most affected by the nation's economic problems," the professor says, noting that 59 percent—nearly six out of 10—did not cite the economy as the top concern.
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