Associate Professor of Political Studies and Chicano Studies Adrian Pantoja first connected with Pitzer College as a visiting lecturer from 2000 to 2001. Since then he has taught, researched, published and received grant awards in Illinois, Connecticut and Arizona before returning home to California and Pitzer College.
“The Hispanic population and the rise of the Hispanic electorate is a hot topic in political science today,” Pantoja began. “By 2050, Hispanics will represent one quarter of the U.S. population. Right now our population is much larger than most Latin American countries,” he added.
Passionate about his research and the meaning behind the numbers, Pantoja asks, “But what are political consequences of this population?” He continued, “It is really an interesting time to be a political scientist in this field and there are many questions as to what exactly it means to be a Hispanic or a Latino and who exactly makes up this population.” Latino is the preferred term in California, but Hispanic and Spanish is widely used in other parts of the U.S., Pantoja added. Mexicans represent the majority of the 37.4 million Hispanic population in the U.S., followed by Central and South Americans (14.3 percent), Puerto Ricans (8.6 percent), Cubans (3.7 percent) and other Hispanics (6.5 percent).* Thus, tremendous diversity exists within the Hispanic population.
It is obvious to those who study the population and interact with them that there is great diversity among ancestry groups in terms of political attitudes and behaviors. Differences are also found between first-, second- and third-generation Latinos, according to Pantoja.
“There is also diversity in terms of socio-economic status. The political outlooks differ between middle-class Latinos versus those who are working class or struggling/living in poverty, so all of these social demographic characteristics have an impact in the diversity of the Hispanic population. There is greater diversity in terms of political attitudes among Hispanics than there are among African Americans who are strongly aligned with the Democratic Party. That’s not the case with Hispanics; partisan support varies across ancestry groups and across electoral cycles. For example, in the 1996 presidential election Dole won about 20 percent of the Latino vote, while in their respective elections both Reagan and George W. Bush captured more than 34 percent of the vote.”
Hispanics have the political advantage of being concentrated in states with large numbers of electoral votes. According to Pantoja, these states—California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois—must be won in order to capture the presidency, and a candidate cannot afford to lose any of these.
Pantoja said there are reasons why Republicans coming out of Texas and California are different than Republicans from Wisconsin or other midwestern states; the rhetoric has to be different because the Republican Party cannot afford to alienate this large body of Hispanic voters.
Pantoja is an advocate of quantitative scholarship: “During the last decade or so much of what was known about this population was impressionist and seen through stereotypical lenses. As a quantitative scholar, I want to challenge some of these stereotypes. You can speak to a handful of Latinos and gather a rich amount of information, but this tells you very little about Latinos generally. Political scientists need to know about the population as a whole. Also, there are many times when the data does not support my assumptions or ideological leanings and that’s a good thing. Quantitative analysis allows others to replicate and challenge my findings. If we have different numbers, we figure out how to reconcile different findings.”
The first major contribution to Latino politics in terms of surveys occurred in 1989 with the Latino National Political Survey (LNPS). This was a major breakthrough as Mexicans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans were surveyed for comparative purposes. The survey results broke stereotypes: Latinos were fairly conservative on a number of issues including bilingual education and immigration and those and other findings upset many of the so-called Latino leaders.
As one of the top scholars in the nation working in the field of Latino politics, Pantoja believes that he is making the biggest contribution in the field by studying the racial diversity of the Hispanic population in terms of phenotype and self-identity. For example, among the Hispanic population approximately 50 percent in the 2000 U.S. census self-identified racially as “white” because the racial category is separate from the ethnic category. Interestingly, close to one million Latinos self-identified as “black.” Little is known about how Latino racial identities impact their socio-political attitudes and behaviors.
Pantoja looks for his research to inform and educate. He stated that in the U.S. the black-white binary has dominated race relations from the time of its founding, but asks about the groups that do not fall into this black-white binary and questions where Hispanics, Asians and many others fit in. “These individuals are neither black nor white. The U.S. has grappled with the black-white binary for generations, and because these middle populations have been relatively small, it has not really defined American politics. That will change,” he said.
*U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, June 2003