Beyond the Sleeping Giant

Confusion about the potential of the Hispanic vote has existed since Hispanics became the largest population group in municipalities all over the nation. Still, as electoral growth has failed to match demographic growth, wishful thinkers continue to regurgitate tired “Sleeping Giant” metaphors without offering much clarity on what is and on what could be as it relates to the Hispanic vote.

After every decennial Census, news stories about how Hispanic population increases will impact the political landscape dominate the public discussion. Few ever mention that while population plays an integral role in political reapportionment, population alone does not determine the number of registered voters on the voter roll nor voter participation, especially for Hispanics.

In Houston, the nation’s 4th largest city, according to Census estimates, Hispanics comprise 44 percent of its 2.2 million inhabitants. Census data also shows Hispanics account for 34 percent of the city’s voting age population; an estimated 650,000 Hispanics are 18 years of age or older. However, of those, a little less than half meet the requirements to vote. Only 26 percent of the citizen voting age population in Houston is Hispanic. In short, the disproportion between population and citizen voting age population is why the expectations of the Hispanic vote remain unfulfilled. It is also the reason the “Sleeping Giant” hypothesis perpetuated by pundits about the Hispanic vote which is based on raw population is misleading. Factors like age and citizenship status make the voting “Giant” label improbable as it relates to Hispanics. Presently, if all race and ethnic groups in Houston achieved full voter registration from one day to the next, Hispanics would be the third largest voting group in the city, behind Whites and Blacks, not the portended “Sleeping Giant.”

Still, Hispanics have the greatest potential for electoral growth. Census data shows that in Houston there are at least 320,000 Hispanics who are citizens of voting age. A surname query performed on the city’s voter roll using the Census list of the “639 Most Frequently Occurring Heavily Hispanic Surnames” show that the number of Spanish surnamed registered voters in the city is conservatively an estimated 170,623.  The difference between the citizen voting age population and the Spanish surname estimated registered voter count suggest that approximately half (47 percent) of the Hispanics eligible to vote are not registered.

 For Hispanics, the issue of voter participation is not confined to voter registration. Although Spanish surname data show that Hispanics comprise around 20 percent of the registered voters within the city, Hispanics have constituted around 9 percent of the total vote in the last three municipal elections. The data shows Hispanics have considerable electoral capacity but Hispanic voter turnout is poor.

 Analysis of voting and income data for the Houston area suggests there is a significant correlation between the two: the lower the household income, the lower the voter participation; the higher the household income the higher the voter participation. Thus, for a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, increasing the Hispanic vote is central to its mission and the socioeconomic and political well-being of U.S Hispanics. For this reason, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is executing a strategic campaign aimed at increasing voter education and participation. Recently, the Chamber partnered with CBS Radio to produce a series of podcasts featuring the 2016 City of Houston Mayoral candidates. According to CBS Radio, their six radio stations have a combined audience reach of 3 million. The Chamber has also launched a public service announcement campaign with Telemundo, Univision, KHOU 11 and radio affiliates. For years, the Chamber has hosted the largest gathering of Elected Officials in Houston and has conducted seminars on how to run for political office.  In addition, the Chamber initiated The Emerging Leaders Institute and The Women Leadership Conference, programs designed to identify, develop and ready young civic-minded individuals for the mantle of leadership.

 But chambers of commerce activities alone are not enough to grow the Hispanic vote. All Hispanics must act responsibly: Hispanic business leaders must invest in community-based groups to expand voter education and mobilization; and, partisan leaders must rethink voter advocacy efforts based on perpetuated beliefs that suggest the electoral process is too difficult for Hispanics to navigate and affirm Hispanics’ inherent distrust of the political process. If the goal of increasing the Hispanic vote is to be achieved, it is imperative every Hispanic citizen of voting age clearly understands that although the process of registering to vote and voting is not perfect, it is functional and accessible. Ultimately, the scale, tone and substance of voter engagement and advocacy efforts may determine the pace at which the Hispanic vote grows.

Above all, if stakeholders are serious about increasing the Hispanic vote, understanding the difference in population, voting age population and citizen voting age population is obligatory. The Census demographic data provides baselines which are indispensable to understanding where we are and where we need to be in the effort to make the Hispanic vote commensurate to its potential.

Hector de Leon is a Communications and Voter Outreach Professional. Dr. Laura G. Murillo is President & CEO, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Helping Prevent Underage Tobacco Use

Whenever you walk into a convenience store, you probably see it. It might be on the door or on the counter. The red and yellow We Card sign that warns those underage that they can’t get access to tobacco products has become familiar to all of us. But some of the people behind that effort may be less familiar.

Altria companies, like Philip Morris USA, have been major supporters of the We Card program since it began in 1995. We Card is more than a sign. The We Card organization trains store clerks to prevent kids from getting access to tobacco products. The program, which reaches thousands of people each year, is celebrating We Card Awareness Month in September.

Our support is just one part of a much bigger program to help prevent kids from using tobacco products. Not everyone expects a tobacco company to fund these kinds of programs. But underage tobacco use is an important issue and we think we have a role to play to help solve it.

The good news is fewer kids are smoking. The latest results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show youth smoking has dropped to 5.6 percent overall and to 3.7 percent among Latino youth. These represent more than 50 percent declines in the last ten years. It’s great progress, but there’s more work to do.

Many factors contribute to underage tobacco use and there’s no simple solution. That’s why experts recommend a multi-faceted approach. And that’s why Altria’s companies invest in diverse programs that can help drive underage tobacco rates down even farther.

We support programs and organizations that positively influence kids and their decision not to engage in risky behaviors like tobacco use.

For example in 2014, we invested more than $21 million in their Success360° initiative. The program funds community organizations focused on helping kids succeed in school and make good decisions – including not using tobacco products. The program helps groups like Communities in Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters and 4-H connect their services to serve middle school kids and their families. Because parents play an important role, this initiative also supports the Search Institute’s ParentFurther® online resource that helps adults build the skills they need to help their children succeed and grow up healthy.

We support trade programs, retailer training and legislative efforts that help prevent underage access to tobacco products.

While underage smoking is declining, underage use of e-cigarettes has risen. Just three years ago, it was legal for a child to buy an e-cigarette in most states. Minimum age laws that governed the sale of traditional tobacco products did not include these newer products. Clearly, this was a problem. So we talked with legislators about the importance of establishing a minimum legal age to purchase e-cigarettes. Today, 46 states have enacted such laws, and we continue to pursue legislation in the remaining four states.

It’s this responsible approach to difficult issues that has helped make Altria the leader in the industry. We believe our approach to issues like preventing kids from smoking will allow us to continue to lead. So the next time you see a We Card sign, we hope you’ll see it as more than a warning. It’s also a symbol of a larger effort. And an example of a company that’s listening, learning and interested in finding solutions.

Jennifer Hunter is Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Altria Client Services.