An active and engaged citizenry is critical to the functioning and legitimacy of a liberal democracy. Yet, Latinos, both within California and nationally, remain underrepresented within the U.S. political system in terms representation and the proportion they make up of the electorate. In California, Latinos make up over 35 percent of the population, yet only 22 percent of the electorate. Part of this discrepancy is due to the fact that over 40 percent of Latinos are not citizens, and therefore ineligible for formal participation. But, even taking into account the community’s non-citizen members, large numbers of young people (who are under 18 and therefore also ineligible), and low socioeconomic status (which has been shown to affect whether individuals vote), Latino voter turn out remains lower than that of other groups.
Yet, Latinos also comprise the nation’s largest, and fastest growing, minority group. Thus, it is reasonable to argue that the future of American democracy depends on increased Latino participation and representation within the U.S. political system. That is why civic engagement is one of the Center for Latino Policy Research’s core research areas. We believe fomenting Latino political engagement across all domains – volunteer work, community organizing, voting, and community engagement – will ensure that the Latino population’s needs are more effectively addressed within the policymaking process. This increased civic engagement is also key to the long-term well being of America’s civic culture and democratic institutions.