Report says politicians giving short shrift to booming Hispanic vote

Tuesday, July 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ A new report estimates the number of Hispanics casting ballots could increase from more than 5.7 million in 2000 to at least 7.9 million in 2004, but claims politicians who are courting Hispanics are doing so in mostly superficial ways.

The report, to be released Wednesday at the National Council of La Raza's annual conference, said politicians are delivering speeches in Spanish or eating at Mexican restaurants but they have failed to focus on issues that concern Hispanics.

``We are seeing a lot of people talking about paying attention to Latinos. We want to make clear that it's not just about catching our eye,'' said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, one of the authors of the report. ``It's about substantive policies.''

There are 35.3 million Hispanics in the United States, according to the 2000 Census, rivaling blacks as the nation's largest minority group. Hispanics can be of any race.

The number of Hispanic registered voters has grown from 2.5 million in 1972 to 7.6 million in 2000, the report said, citing figures from research done by the William C. Velasquez Institute.

However, 79 percent of those Hispanic voters actually cast ballots in 2000 _ trailing the 86 percent of whites and 84 percent of blacks.

Both the White House and Democrats are targeting the Hispanic vote, said Sergio Bendixen of the Bendixen and Associates political consulting firm.

``The Latino vote has become one of the major battlegrounds in American politics,'' he said. ``I don't know any constituency in the country that is being fought over with more energy and resources than the Latino vote.''

The Hispanic vote for president has historically been solidly Democratic, the report said. But the share of Hispanics who support President Bush is growing, the report notes, citing data from Bendixen and Associates.

In May, Republicans announced a new Spanish-language television show about public affairs. The show, airing in selected markets, is an attempt to appeal to Hispanics.

``We are working very closely with our state parties to make sure they're registering more Latino voters, that they're having a presence at Latino events,'' said Sharon Castillo, deputy director of communications for the Republican National Committee.

Guillermo Meneses, director of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee, says Democrats have a long-standing bond with Hispanics.

``This is not something new for us that we just discovered two years ago, or last year,'' he said. ``We have always embraced Hispanic culture and Hispanic values.''

The report said Latinos overwhelmingly support a legalization program for immigrant workers who live, work and pay taxes in the United States. It also found:

_ About 45 percent of Hispanics rated education as their first or second choice as the most important public policy issue. About 80 percent of registered Latino voters said they support bilingual education.

_ About 66 percent of Latinos said it is the federal government's job to ensure minorities have equal access to quality jobs.

_ More than half of Latinos said the health care system treats people unfairly based on their race or ethnic background, and 72 percent said it treats people unfairly based on how well they speak English.