I visited Shenandoah River State Park on a recent sunny weekend with my family and was pleasantly surprised to see so many fellow Hispanics enjoying the outdoors. The park offers scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and river-front picnicking, fishing, hiking trails and boating. It was rewarding to see so many children enjoying the outdoors, as my team and I have spent years educating and encouraging Latino families to visit and enjoy their public lands, like this Virginia state park.
Now, a new research brief from leading pollster Latino Decisions and Hispanic Access Foundation indicates that Latinos aren't just appreciating and increasingly advocating for our environment - they may even vote for candidates who will see it protected.
Our research brief, "Hispanic Voter Perspectives on Conservation and Environmental Issues," analyzes nine major public opinion polls from the last three years. It finds Latinos overwhelming support greater environmental protections, such as preserving parks and public lands, so much so that conservation issues could influence voting decisions in the mid-term elections.
There is ample evidence Latinos in the West and Southwest, especially, have strong cultural ties to the public lands and rivers in the region, and regularly partake in outdoor activities. This personal connection to the outdoors helps to sharpen interest in conservation policy issues.
Just last month, the inaugural Latino Conservation Week demonstrated nationwide interest among Hispanic community organizations on environmental issues. Throughout the week, in events from California, Colorado, New Mexico and others, Latino groups organized hiking and camping outings, participated in community events, and held presentations designed to show their support for permanently protecting our land, water and clean air.
And now this report provides definitive proof: there is a significant, growing Latino movement that is advocating for greater environmental protections of our parks and public lands. As the report says, "When it comes to policies and candidates, Hispanics consistently articulate their preference for an agenda that actively promotes a cleaner environment and preserving public lands."
"Clean air and water, preserving public lands, climate change and promoting clean energy solutions are all matters of concern for this rapidly-growing electorate," said Dr. Adrian Pantoja, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Professor of Political Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California in a press release about the new report. "Decision-makers and advocates with national and regional constituencies will need to demonstrate their attention to these concerns and policy preferences as the Latino population and electorate continues to grow into the foreseeable future."
The Latino population is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population - and increasingly engaged in electoral politics. Some pundits believe Latino voters will be key to Colorado's midterm races for instance, but I think we can expect to see candidates nationwide paying tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month. More importantly: how many political campaigns will also reach out to local Latino organizations to recognize National Public Lands Day (September 27) or visit a nearby park or national forest, in light of this new report? Only the savvy ones.