CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Unlocking the Latino Vote: Civic Organizations As Tools for Latino Voter Mobilization and Participation

Elizabeth L. Thom

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): John DiIulio

Date of this Version: 23 April 2014



For decades now, politicians, pollsters and pundits have tried to define, unite and persuade Latino voters. Presidential campaigns dating as far back as the 1960s have made efforts to appeal to the Latino electorate in order to win elections. In 1983 Ronald Reagan concerned himself with winning over Latinos voters during his reelection bid. Today, the diversifying electorate has placed Latinos at the center of twenty-first century American politics.

It is no secret that Latinos are the largest minority population in the United States. Their share of the electorate increases daily, along with their importance in winning national elections. Now more than ever, the Latino voting bloc is the apple of every presidential campaign’s eye. Part of the appeal is that Latino voters are largely undecided about their political party affiliations. They have supported both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past, and have taken both liberal and conservative stances on a variety of social issues. Another factor is that a good number of Latinos live in important swing districts across the country in states such as Colorado, Virginia and Florida. Their votes are critical to winning any presidential campaign.

For these reasons, the “Latino vote” has become one of the most talked about topics among politicos and strategists. However, absent from the discussion is whether or not a homogenous Latino vote actually exists. The diverse backgrounds and experiences among Latinos in the United States suggest that they share little in common with one another. So far, there is no indication of a pan-ethnic Latino identity or culture. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that Latinos in the United States are beginning to band together to push for common causes and agendas that are particular to their communities. Does increased unity among Latinos mean they will all vote in the same way?

This thesis weighs competing theories on the Latino vote through the lens of Latino civic organizations. Through two case studies of Latino civic institutions that operate at the local and national levels, and in suburban and urban communities, this thesis concludes that civic organizations are mainstays in Latino communities and provide important resources to Latinos of all backgrounds to participate in civic life. They are gradually becoming the primary places where Latinos can learn civic skills and mobilize to participate in political and nonpolitical activities. Due to their nonpartisan nature, though, they alone are not enough to confirm the existence of a Latino vote. By examining Latino civic organizations, this thesis contributes to theoretical discussions of Latino politics and draws conclusions about the feasibility and future of a homogenous Latino vote.


American Politics

Suggested Citation

Thom, Elizabeth L., "Unlocking the Latino Vote: Civic Organizations As Tools for Latino Voter Mobilization and Participation" 23 April 2014. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 21 May 2014




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