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NMSU professors say votes of women, Hispanics should not be taken for granted

With the presidential race too close to call, women and Hispanic voters will be more important than ever to both George Bush and Al Gore, but the votes of neither group can be taken for granted, two NMSU government professors said.

Neither women nor Hispanics are monolithic groups and, in looking at their votes, observers must consider several factors, said professors Nancy Baker and Jose Garcia.

Baker and Garcia spoke Wednesday at a government department seminar, one of five the department plans between Oct. 18 and Nov. 29.

Baker said Gore should benefit from the "gender gap," a difference in political preferences between men and women that usually has benefitted Democrats. Women are also more likely to favor Gore's positions on education, health care, abortion and gun control, she added. A larger proportion of women than men identify themselves as Democrats and a larger proportion of women are likely to say they approve of the job done by President Clinton, Baker said.

So why isn't the gender gap working more strongly in Gore's favor? One answer is Bush's lead among men is much greater than Gore's lead among women, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Baker said. Also, women are not an undivided bloc and their support for a candidate varies depending on such factors as race, marital status and economic level, she said.

Voter turnout may be an important factor in the presidential race, because a number of studies have found that the young and those making less than $35,000 a year -- groups who tend to favor Gore -- are less likely to go to the polls. However, a study by the Center for American Women and Politics found that, in all socio-economic groups, women are more likely than men to register and vote, Baker said.

With New Mexico still a "battleground" state in the race, the importance of Hispanics in the state is fairly clear. While the non-Hispanic voters in the state are evenly split, Hispanics -- men and women -- favor Gore over Bush 67 percent to 33 percent, Garcia said.

"If Gore wins this state, it will be because of the Hispanic vote," he said.

Except in Florida where Cuban Americans are strongly Republican, Hispanics in the United States have tended to vote Democratic since the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt made a strong effort to recruit them, Garcia said.

Clinton got 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1992 and raised that percentage to 72 percent in 1996. But, like women, Hispanics don't conform to a stereotype. Ronald Reagan got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1980 and 47 percent in 1984. In 1988, Bush's father also got 47 percent of the Hispanic vote, he said.

Garcia said the younger Bush attained the status of a national candidate almost instantaneously when he won the Texas governorship a second time. During that race, he won in El Paso, with its 70 percent Hispanic population, a feat Garcia termed "astounding." However, while Bush has said he won 50 percent of Texas' Hispanic vote in his last race, in reality, the figure was only 39 percent, he added.

Although there are significant Hispanic populations in states with big numbers in the electoral college, such as California, Texas, Florida and New York, their presence yields mixed results. The Republicans have given up California, where the introduction of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson roused a backlash by Hispanics. But Bush is almost certain to carry Texas and in Florida the Cuban American population will probably vote Republican as well, Garcia said.

A number of other "battleground" states with large electoral college numbers, do not have significant Hispanic populations. These include, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington and Oregon, he added.

The importance of the Hispanic vote is likely to grow in coming years, Garcia said, because many Hispanic citizens are still under voting age.

"There's a baby boom coming and the number of Hispanic voters will increase faster then their percentage of the population as a whole," he said.

Jack King
Oct. 19, 2000