ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The future is now in New Mexico from a demographic perspective, with the state’s large Hispanic population pointing the way to where the rest of the country will be in 35 years, University of New Mexico professor Gabriel Sanchez said Thursday.
“In essence, Latinos are leading the diversification of the United States,” said Sanchez, addressing a sell-out crowd at the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce’s Hispanic Heritage Luncheon.
Sanchez, in addition to teaching political science, is executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at UNM and a lead researcher at Seattle-based Latino Decisions, which does political opinion research.
Sanchez said the median age of the state’s Hispanic population is 31, compared to a median age of 48 for Anglos, which points to a gradual increase in the Hispanic share of the total population. Median means half the measured population is older and half is younger.
Almost all of the increase is homegrown, he said, as opposed to in-migration from elsewhere, a remark that drew applause at the luncheon.
And with that population growth comes increased buying power, increased influence on mainstream culture and increased political clout, he said. Hispanics make up about 45 percent of the state’s population and, as of 2013, 33 percent of the state’s consumer spending.
“Hispanic buying power as market share is highest in the country,” Sanchez said.
Where New Mexico really stands apart is in Hispanic representation in elected public office. The state Legislature is 45 percent Hispanic, thus making New Mexico the only state in the country where representation reflects population, Sanchez said.
“We should be proud of that,” he said.
At the federal level, two of New Mexico’s three representatives in the House are Hispanic — Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján — while the national makeup is about 8 percent Hispanic, compared to 80 percent Anglo and 10 percent African-American.
On top of that, Gov. Susana Martinez is the first Latina elected state governor in the country, which puts her in the national spotlight on many issues, Sanchez said.
“New Mexico is by far leading the pack as far as our Latino political representation,” he said.
The 2012 national elections marked the first time the Hispanic vote made a difference in the outcome, although Hispanic voting power remains a tentative force in politics, he said: “We have a lot to do in our community.”
The issue has two parts: getting Hispanics registered to vote and getting them to the polls to cast their ballots.
In New Mexico, there are 302,000 registered Hispanic voters, about 60 percent of the potential voter pool. The percentage is the same as in Arizona and Colorado, but substantially higher than the 46 percent registered in Texas.
“When Hispanics are registered in New Mexico, they vote at the same rates as whites do,” Sanchez said.