Polls generalizations simplify cultural groups

A recent article by Haya El Nasser in Al Jazeera a self-proclaimed unbiased, global news source addressed the importance of Latino voters in the upcoming elections and their stance on environmental issues. The article cited a poll conducted by the Hispanic Access Foundation claiming that Latino voters are more concerned with the effects of climate change than voters in the general population. Activists latched onto this fact, claiming that they had reached a tipping point in the environmental movement. The activists believe that leaders are slowing waking up to the fact that the Latino community could be instrumental in shifting political operatives’ agendas. Although these topics are important and voter demographics are in some ways vital, the major points of the article are problematic.

First of all, El Nasser uses the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably. The words themselves are actually more distinct. This matters because Mexicans/Mexican-Americans and Cubans/Cuban-Americans are considered Latinos and Hispanics, whereas someone from Brazil would only be considered a Latino. Even within those three ethnicities, there are different political trends. Mexicans/Mexican-Americans tend to vote Democratic while Cubans/Cuban-Americans tend to vote Republican. The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are thrown around a lot even within a single sentence. These semantic oversights make the article problematic. Although there is an understanding that the author speaks about a certain ethnicity and its voter trends, the author’s reliability comes into question because the article does not concretely define “Hispanic” and “Latino.”

For instance, how are Spanish-Americans voting compared to Salvadorian-Americans? What do Hispanic and Latino signify in this poll? Also, who exactly are they polling? Increased specificity would create a more concrete understanding of who within the Latino and Hispanic groups care most about specific issues instead of lumping them in one group: Latino/Hispanic.

At the beginning of the article, the author mentions that this poll was conducted with Latino/Hispanic voters in Florida. The article makes it seems as though the importance of the issue is a universal one among all Latino/Hispanic voters. Again, data from one polling location does not necessarily pertain to other members of the community who live throughout the United States. If the question, “What political issues are you most interested in for the next election?” were posed in Texas or California, would the answer still be environmental issues? Both states have been in the news due to the influx of child refugees from Central America. This suggests that the Latino and Hispanic groups there would have a reason to vote differently.

Nonetheless, the issues surrounding climate change are important, and it would make sense for Latinos and Hispanics to vote so heavily on this if they are from Florida. Florida has a high population of Cubans/Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. In the article, the author comments on some voters who are concerned with the surety of their family’s agricultural success in their home countries most of which are close to the equator. These individuals in Florida come from countries that are very sensitive to climate change due to their geographic location.

Race does play an important role when it comes to voter issues, but why wouldn’t it? Many Latinos and Hispanics vote Democratic, as most candidates from the party are particularly concerned with immigration and worker rights. Yet, there is a flaw when distinctions aren’t made within the group as a whole. If pollsters fail to closely examine their data and see the numbers broken down into specific categories, they could end up making false generalizations.

Cynthia Zapata ’16 zapata@stolaf.edu is from Rosemount, Minn. She majors in English with a concentration in race and ethnic studies.

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