When it comes the political power of Latinos, the question essentially falls to the issue of turnout.
Nearly 70 percent of Latino voters checked the box for Barack Obama in 2008, and current polling indicates a similar percentage will vote for him again in November. Even though the country's 23.4 million eligible Hispanic voters trend towards Democrats, the group's influence is muted by a turnout rates significantly lower than that of white non-Hispanics.
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Bringing out that untapped power is precisely the goal of actress Rosario Dawson, who stopped by the Current TV show of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom this week to talk about her work with Voto Latino, a nonprofit targeted at increasing voter participation in the Latino community.
"There's so may different avenues to target different demographics because Latinos are not a monolithic voting block, this is a big country," explained Dawson, who serves at the group's charwoman. "We're reaching out to different people who are affected by different things--voter ID laws or the 18 million people who have lost their homes since 2008 and don't know they have to re-register...That's potentially millions of people who could be disenfranchised and then be very surprised about it when they show up at their local, regular polling station and realize they're not on the roster anymore because they moved and now their address doesn't match."
Since 2005, when she founded Voto Latino with activist Maria Teresa Kumar, Dawson has been on a mission to increase Latino participation in the political process in a fairly neutral way. The "Sin City" star has declined to endorse any specific political candidates or parties, instead she's focusing on increasing access for a population group she argues is significantly more savvy than many political insiders give them credit for.
"When your trying to reach out to the Latino vote, if you're from either political party, and you're only doing it in Spanish language media, you're missing a huge group of people because 79 percent of Latinos consumer all their information in English," she told Newsom. "They're on Twitter, they're on Facebook, they're on all different websites and they're hearing what you're saying about them in English and watching the same stuff in Spanish and going, 'Wait a minute, you us said I was illegal a second ago, now you're just trying to get my vote in Spanish?' I think there's a savviness to the Latino American voter. They get registered and vote, they have a lot to say. They're really part of the conversation right now."
The Gavin Newsom Show featuring Dawson, as well as Walter Isaacson, Dean Kamen, Muhtar Kent and Jeff Gordon, premiers Friday night at 11 p.m. PST on Current TV.