Latino voters rise to dominate Miami-Dade electorate

Posted Oct. 18, 2012

By CONNIE M. FOSSI
School of Communication
University of Miami

At 18 days from the presidential election, appealing the Latino vote is crucial for President Barack Obama and his contender Mitt Romney, especially in places where Hispanics dominate the electorate.

This is the case of Miami-Dade County, the most populous county of Florida with more than one million of eligible voters, where Latinos represent 54 percent of the electorate, leading other racial and ethnic groups including Non-Hispanic Whites (21 percent) and African Americans (19 percent).

“If you want to do business here, and if you want to run elections here you have to appeal to Latinos, the Hispanic voters,” said Marc Caputo, a Miami Herald political reporter.

Since the 1970s, Latino voters have experienced an intense process of growth and change. From being the minority in the past, they became the dominant group in the county.

“In terms of electoral demographics, the Elections Department is aware of the diversity in our community and this is taken into consideration at all facets of election preparation. All ballots and election materials are published in English, Spanish and Creole,” said Miami-Dade County Elections Department spokesperson Carolina Lopez.

The first time Latinos were included in the Miami-Dade County voting registration record was 1973. At that moment, they were only 38,542, constituting 6 percent of the voters.  By 1985, they were already 24 percent of the electorate and by 2000 they were reaching the 40 percent range.

As Hispanic voters grew significantly, the number of registered voters of other racial and ethnic groups shrank or experienced minimum increases in the county.

In the 1970s, Non-Hispanic Whites represented 88 percent of the electorate of Miami-Dade, being the strongest racial group. In just a period of five years (1990-1995), they dropped from 79 percent to 44 percent.  Nowadays, they constitute 21 percent of the electorate and it is the group that has experience the most drastic changes.

“It is not necessarily a decline in the registration of Non-Hispanic Whites, it could just mean that there are fewer Non-Hispanic Whites relative to Hispanics and African Americans, that is probably what happened,” said University of Miami Political Science Professor Casey Klofstad.

Klofstad believes that it is not about a decline, but a matter of change in the population composition.

“If the Non-Hispanic Whites are registering at the same rate but they are a fewer and fewer, they will make a smaller proportion of the electorate. Therefore, it could be just a story of changing demographics,” he said.

On the other hand, the number of African-American voters has remained stable with few variations over the years. By 1970, they were 12 percent of the electorate of the county, representing the second largest racial group. From 1990 to 2012, they have been remained in the 20 percent and 19 percent range.

In the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, there is no a detailed report about the changes of the electorate based on race and ethnicity.

The increase in the number of Latino voters has been also the result of an ongoing immigration process in Miami, especially from countries of South and Central America.

According to a Pew Research Center report released on September 2012, two-thirds (67 percent) of the Hispanic population in Miami is foreign-born. This is the highest foreign-born share among Hispanics in any of the top 60 metro areas of the United States, including New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Houston.

Cuban-Americans are the largest Latino group and the majority of Republican registered voters in Miami-Dade.

“You have to understand that 72 percent of the registered Republicans in Miami-Dade are Hispanic, are Latinos and that is huge.  No other county in the nation is like that, when you have such as a high number of Republican Hispanic voters,” said Caputo.

Although they are still more Latinos registered as Republicans in the county than to any other party, the number of them has decreased almost 20 points since 2000, when they represented 57 percent of the Latino electorate. Nowadays, they are 40 percent.

“The Cuban share of the vote is shrinking as the broader Hispanics growth. You have seen an influx in South and Central American voters who are coming into the county and changing the nature of the Republican politics, the Latino politics of the county and of the state,” said Caputo.

“Miami is such as diverse area where you can find a little of everything, you can find Colombians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans so the electorate is definitely not focused only on Cuban-Americans,” said Catherine Marie Cuello, a fellow staff member of Organizing for America who registers new voters in Miami-Dade.

“Miami is opening its doors to other nationalities every day,” she said.

Since 2000, the Latino Democrat electorate has expanded from 24 percent to 30 percent in Miami-Dade County, moving forward to the voting trend of Latinos in the rest of the nation, who massively support President Barack Obama and the Democrat party for more than 70 percent according to Gallup.

Klofstad believed that part of the variations in the county’s voting registration patterns are caused by the changes within the Cuban-American community in Miami-Dade.

“More recent Cuban immigrants, the ‘Marielitos’ and forward, are not political refugees like the early immigrants were. Those who came after the 1980s, they came here because they were poor and they wanted a better way of life. They are also more likely to still have family on the island, more than earlier immigrants, and they tend to have a more flexible mentality with regards to the U.S. sanctions to Castro’s regime,” he said.

In 2008, reports showed that part of newer generations of Cuban-Americans supported President Obama, changing the traditional trends within this Hispanic community.

Jason Soriano, 21, a University of Miami journalism student, grew up in a traditional Cuban-American Republican home. However, he will vote for President Obama this year.

“I care about Cuba; however, I see the Cuban-American tradition of supporting the Republican Party as conservative and an old-school set of mind. New generations are disconnecting from their families’ party affiliation and that is my case.  I can see myself voting Democrat at least for the next decade,” said Soriano.

Soriano has different priorities and concerns than his grandparents, who greatly care about economy and foreign policy.

“I care about social issues, the economy is important but I guess it doesn’t hit me as hard. I have friends who are gay and I have friends who have had abortions and therefore I am strong supporter of their rights. I have never agreed with the Republic platform on these issues,” said Soriano.

Soriano’s grandmother, Sara Smukler, 79, has supported the Republican Party since the 1980’s election, when she voted for former president Ronald Reagan. She argues that her support for Mitt Romney has nothing to do with the Castro Regime and the tensions with the Democratic Party.

Smukler is also opened to support the blue party in the future.

“I will vote for the Democrats in 2016 if Hillary Clinton is the presidential candidate. She is a very smart woman and I think she can do a good job,” she said.

According to Klofstad, “There is a variation within the younger Cuban Americans, some are careless or don’t care at all about the legacy of Cuban politics and oppression under communism, some care a great deal. It all depends on the unique circumstances they are in and how they were raised.”

Despite of this, he believes that the Latino electorate in the county will not change dramatically.

“They are more liberal, they are more opened minded, but they don’t vote. That is the key thing. The community as a whole has become more moderate but the electorate has pretty much stay the same,” he said.

The number of Latinos registered under “No Party Affiliation” has also increased.  They are  193, 998 registered under this category out of the 673,133 total number of Hispanic voters in the county, almost reaching the number of Democrats and representing 29 percent of the Latino electorate.

“A lot of people want to keep their vote secret, it is part of their tradition, ‘It is my vote and I am not going to tell you what I think,’ many believe,” said Cuello.

Although Latinos are the largest electorate in Miami-Dade and the majority of them are Republican, the county tends to vote Democrat. According to the Miami-Dade County Department of Elections August 2012 registration report, 30 percent of the voters are registered Republican versus the 40 percent who are Democrat.

“This is a blue county. We are almost at the level now where the number of independent voters, no party affiliation voters is almost larger than the number of registered Republicans in Miami-Dade County,”said Caputo.

The majority of Non-Hispanic Whites support the Democratic Party with 40 percent, while 84 percent of the African-American registered voters in the county are Democrat.

“A large population of Miami-Dade County is African-American and they are overwhelmingly democratic voters,” said Caputo.

In Florida, 2.1 million Hispanics are eligible to vote, being the thirst largest Latino electorate in the nation and a crucial group to convince, especially in this presidential race where the state is the target of both campaigns.

“Latinos have grown 17 percent to 23 percent in the state and the number of registered voters has grown around 4 percent since 2000 so I have to say Latinos have become an ever important force in electoral politics,” said Klofstad.

According to a recent report released by Latino Decisions and America’s Voice, 57 percent of Hispanics in Florida are more motivated to vote this year than in the previous presidential elections. 61 percent of those voters are planning to vote for Barack Obama versus the 31 percent that will support Romney.

“Miami-Dade itself is not going to be critically important. However, statewide, the vote of Latino voters is very important,” said Klofstad.

“If there is going to be any difference maker will be Puerto Ricans because they could turn the tide in the middle of the state. You are not going to make southern Florida turn for Romney; you are not going to make northern Florida turn to Obama. The fight is in the middle of the state and for the fact that more Puerto Ricans are there, they could really be a game changer for either candidate and more likely for the president,” he said.

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