By Hannah Rank
Voter turnout in the predominantly Hispanic communities in Chicago and its suburbs appears to be higher in Tuesday’s Illinois primaries than in the past.
The numbers, which are still being analyzed, are consistent with the projections of some experts who anticipated that because immigrant issues have played a significant role in the incendiary Presidential campaign, eligible Latino voters are poised to make an impact this election year. Few experts had made the leap to predict a significant uptick of Hispanics in the primary vote.
“[The Latino community is] getting older in age and more and more people are either born in the U.S. or have been here long enough that they have been able to be citizens,” said Rob Paral, a Chicago-based demographer. “The numbers are there for the Latino vote to be more important than ever.”
The preliminary results of Tuesday’s election seem to affirm Paral’s and others’ analyses.
Historically, Hispanic turnout is consistently lower in the primaries than for other Chicago-area voters – as much as 36 percentage points lower in some cases. But Tuesday’s turnout in Hispanic communities was nearly on par with suburban Cook County and Chicago.
Almost 45 percent of the registered voters in the predominantly Latino 12th Ward turned out to vote, just six percentage points lower than the rest of Chicago.
The Chicago metropolitan area has long-established Hispanic suburban communities. According to 2010 U.S. Census numbers, Cicero and Melrose Park have some of the largest Hispanic populations in suburban Cook County – 87 percent and 70 percent, respectively. In Tuesday’s primaries, Cicero and Melrose Park saw a 47 and 46 percent voter turnout, respectively, which are consistent with greater suburban Cook County’s 48 percent voter turnout.
In the 2012 Illinois primaries, in which incumbent President Barack Obama was the only Democrat on the ticket and Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were the main contenders for the GOP nomination, voter turnout was 24 percent in suburban Cook County. Still, suburban Latino communities lagged behind; only 17 percent of registered voters turned out in Melrose Park and only 19 percent in Cicero.
In the City of Chicago, people show up more consistently for the polls: for all three of the last presidential primaries, a little more than half of registered voters turned out.
Yet the 12th Ward in Chicago, which includes such predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods as Little Village and Brighton Park, turnout in the past has been comparatively much lower than the rest of the city. In the 2012 primaries, 16 percent of the ward turned out to vote.
One possible explanation for the heightened Hispanic turnout could be the efforts of influential Hispanic groups to engage this demographic of voters.
David Damore, senior analyst at polling think-tank Latino Decisions, noted that in the past not much attention has been paid to early engagement and mobilization efforts of Latino voters.
“To date much of this potential remains untapped given that there has been little to no investment in outreach and mobilization of the Latino community in prior cycles in the state,” Damore wrote in an email. “Given the relatively low turnout in primaries, candidates and campaigns typically target voters who historically participate in these types of elections…instead of seeking to enlarge the electorate.”
But Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s stance on border control and deportation has many influential liberal and Latino groups nationwide ramping up their efforts to engage Latino voting. Univision recently announced a campaign effort to spur registration of 3 million new Latino voters. Liberal billionaire George Soros recently contributed $5 million to the Immigrant Voters Win super PAC. And the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization, launched a voter registration mobile app to ease registration for Latinos.
Of the nearly 860,000 Chicagoans who voted Tuesday, 79 percent voted Democratic with slightly more than half voting for Hillary Clinton. Trump took just over a third of the Republican vote, with John Kasich coming in second at a quarter of the vote.
In the 12th Ward, almost all of Tuesday’s voters (94 percent) took Democratic ballots, and more than half voted for Bernie Sanders.
In suburban Cook County, Democratic voters comprised 68 percent of the vote, again with slightly more than half voting for Clinton. Trump faired better in the suburbs than he did in Chicago; of the third in the county voting Republican, 41 percent voted for Trump and just under one-fourth voted for Kasich.
In predominanly Hispanic Cicero Township, 87 percent of voters cast a Democratic vote, with 55 percent voting for Sanders.
In Melrose Park, 83 percent of the vote went Democratic, with half the vote going to Clinton. Interestingly, of the measly Republican voters in the two suburban towns, Trump won more convincingly than in the county overall, with about 46 percent of the vote.
Martin Torres, senior policy analyst for Latino Policy Forum, was tentative to predict that the primaries would draw greater Latino participation, but said he wouldn’t be surprised given the increased spotlight given to Latino issues in this election.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of national conversation around immigration and Mexican immigrants in particular and so I think that’s driven up the Latino dialogue on the subject,” Torres said. “I think there is going to be significant Latino interest in this election. How that manifests itself in the primary I think will be different than the general. Your hardcore voters are the ones who generally come out in the primary.”
Torres says the aim of national outreach efforts is to mobilize as many new immigrant voters as possible. He says efforts will ramp up more for November’s elections.
“The hard push toward voter registration, voter education and voter mobilization will start later this spring, into the summer,” Torres said. “I think that’s when most entities that do aggressive voter registration really move things forward.”