On Oct. 3, Latino Decisions released results of a poll of Latino voters, with fairly predictable results. Most respondents – 67 percent – rate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton favorably, while 77 percent hold a dim view of Republican nominee Donald Trump. But here’s a surprising statistic: Only 38 percent said that any organization has encouraged them to register or vote. That’s more than the 31 percent who said they were asked during the last presidential election, but below the typical rates for whites, which was 43 percent (based on post-2012 election survey data). Other minority and immigrant groups have similar experiences. This year, only 30 percent of Asian Americans said that any group or party had gotten in touch to urge them to register or vote. Why? Most of the nonprofit groups that work with recent immigrants offer such services as language classes, job training, housing placement and public health support. They stay away from anything election-related, even voter registration. In my new book “Immigrants and Electoral Politics,” I show that’s partly because they fear that doing anything political could jeopardize their nonprofit tax status. I took up this research in part because very little scholarship had investigated these groups’ political activities.
Immigrants and certain ethnic minority groups historically vote at low levels, lower than white and African American citizens. In 2012, 64 percent of non-Hispanic white eligible voters, and African Americans, turned out on Election Day, compared with 48 percent of Hispanic Americans and 47 percent of Asian Americans. And these groups are the best positioned to connect immigrants to the political process. Doing so would help them further acculturate, connect with the larger society, and have their voices heard in our civic realm.
To examine these issues, I studied immigrant organizations based in six states. I included two states that were traditional immigration centers, New York and Illinois, as well as two states where recent migration patterns have put immigrants in regions not used to absorbing them at such high rates, Florida and North Carolina. Finally, I looked at two states with very different types of immigrant communities: New Jersey with its large South Asian population, and Michigan with a long history of immigration from Middle Eastern countries.
Using data from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, I surveyed more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations (nearly all designated as 501(c)(3)s by the IRS) in these states during the 2012 campaign. My goal was to find what, if anything, they were doing that was related to the election.