Educational level, literacy rate affect voter turnout in Florida

Posted Oct. 17, 2012

By DANIELA RODRIGUEZ
School of Communication
University of Miami

With the controversy surrounding voter ID laws in the United States, there might be confusion stirring among voters.

Victor Ortega, 30, a resident of Sunny Isles, Fla., near Miami, says he doesn’t know what to bring to his designated polling location to make his vote.

“I have been watching the news and now I am confused as to what type of identification I have to bring,” said Ortega. “If I’m confused, I can’t imagine how those who don’t watch the news feel.”

With these new restrictions or limitations being put on voters nationwide, it may sway the results. It makes it difficult for those who may have limitations because of language or didn’t have a high level of formal education. In turn, they may be even more discouraged to vote because of these restrictions.

In Florida, the 10 most populous counties were Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange, Duval, Brevard, Polk, and Volusia in 1992. The percentage for those lacking basic English prose literacy skills was 26 percent in Miami-Dade, which was the highest out of all the 10 counties. The average was 15 percent between them.

In comparison to 2003, the rates grew for all counties as well as the population. Miami-Dade rose to 52 percent, double from 1993 while its population grew only one-third.

This could be due to increase of immigrants coming from Latin American and Caribbean countries. The first wave of Cuban immigrants came to Florida during the 1960’s. Many of these Cubans moved to Miami.

Notable Cuban-Americans who have become success stories in Miami, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the Diaz-Balart brothers are widely known for being in the media and Congress.

But there is still a large amount of Cubans who are in the working class and many within the Cuban community who are poor, said Kevin E. McHugh, professor of geography at Arizona State University. McHugh, along with Ines Miyares, a professor of geography at Hunter College, and Emily Skop, also a professor of geography at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, wrote an essay named “The Magnetism of Miami,” which focuses on the immigration of Cubans to Miami and outside of Miami in 1997.

With this influx of immigrants coming into Miami, there is a higher amount of people who do not speak English well or can’t speak it at all. This may be the cause for a lower literacy rate in Miami-Dade.

The U.S. Census reported educational attainment of adults 25 and older. More than half of the people who were graduated from high school did not pursue a bachelor’s degree or greater. That has been the trend from 1990 to 2009. But there has been a slow increase in those who seek a high school diploma and beyond compared to the lower rates in 1990.

Voter turnout for Congressional elections decreased starting in 1994 and on average stayed on that same trend until 2008, where an increase was seen. As for the presidential elections, voter turnout started decreasing in 1996 and rose in 2004 and stayed about the same for the 2008 elections.

The last presidential election did have a higher voter turnout by Hispanics, young adults and blacks, which could explain the increase of voter turnout in 2008.

According to the Gallup Organization, which surveys public opinion in the U.S. with the help of experts in different areas such as politics and economy, voter turnout among 18- to 29-year olds’ was 78 percent in 2008.

Gabriel Almond, a political scientist who taught at Yale, Stanford and Princeton, and Sidney Verba, a political scientist who specialized on the issues of political participation by different groups, wrote a book named “The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations”.

“The uneducated man or the man with limited education is a different political actor from the man who has achieved a higher level of education,” said Verba.

Experiments Examine Effects of Education on Voter Turnout

There have been debates and studies in political science as to whether literacy rate and educational attainment directly affect voter turnout.

Three studies conducted by Rachel Milstein Sondheimer, an assistant professor of Political Science in the U.S. Military Academy in West Point and Donald P. Green, a professor from Yale University, were conducted to estimate the effects of education on voter turnout.

One of the studies performed, named the Perry Preschool Experiment, consisted of following 123 kids starting preschool until high school graduation and beyond and tracked down their voter’s participation.

All the kids came from low socioeconomic status using a score based on three factors: parents’ educational levels, parents’ occupational levels, and the number of rooms in the family household.

The voter turnout data was gathered from data supplied by the firm Voter Contact Services, a commercial vendor, which collects voter registration and turnout information from public agencies.

The results showed high school graduation rates were 44.4 percent in the control group and 65.0 percent in the treatment group. Voter turnout was 18 percent more in the treatment group than the control group, which had 13 percent.

The second study they did surveyed students in Boulder, Colo., that were part of the “I Have A Dream” (IHAD) program, a comprehensive scholarship program aimed at increasing high school graduation and post-secondary matriculation rates of at-risk youth.

The treatment group consisted of students who were part of the free or reduced lunch program and were part of IHAD. The results turned out to have similar results the Perry Preschool had, where the treatment group had a higher voter turnout than those who were not part of IHAD.

The STAR Experiment was the third study conducted, which was used to see how class size in Tennessee affected educational outcomes. It was funded by the state’s legislature, who allocated $12 million in funding over four years for this statewide research.

For the subjects that were known to have graduated from high school, there was a higher voter turnout for those that had a smaller class size and had a teacher aide as opposed to those that had a bigger class size.

From these studies, it can be concluded that literacy rate and educational attainment does influence voter turnout.

Barack Obama’s support mostly comes from groups such as young adults, blacks, and Hispanics, who have historically had a lower voter turnout than any other subgroup, according to the Gallup Organization.

With such a large community of immigrants in Florida, especially in South Florida, this greatly affects the outcome of the presidential elections. Florida is known to be of the key states a presidential candidate has to win over in order to potentially win the election.

Carolina Payares, 24, a dental student from Colombia, said the U.S. election is globally important.

“This looks like a very tight race, but I hope Americans make the right choice since this isn’t something that only affects the United States, it also affects the whole world,” said Payares.

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