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Gary Younge
Hispanics set to transform US politics

Because of high birth rates, within seven years one in nine school-age children will be Hispanic and by 2020 one in four new members of the nation's workforce will be Latino, as those Hispanics born in the US outnumber their parents, according to a report released by the Washington-based thinktank, the Pew Hispanic centre.

The generational earthquake, which is already having a profound effect on Hispanic life, will have huge ramifications for mainstream politics, culture and economics.

"The biggest difference is that we are shifting from a process where the largest component is Spanish-speaking immigrants - where language and immigration status were two enormous questions - to a growth of a population that is English-speaking and native-born," the Pew centre's director, Roberto Suro, told the Washington Post. "You move away from the issues that have been dominant. They have a totally different set of issues than their parents do."

In January Hispanics overtook African-Americans as the nation's largest minority group, comprising 13% of the population compared with 12.7% for African-Americans. By 2020 children of immigrants will outnumber their parents by 21.7 million to 20.6 million. Moreover, another 18 million will be Hispanics who have been in the United States for three generations.

Hispanics are disproportionately likely to vote Democrat but are more conservative on issues such as gay rights and abortion, while the younger generation is more liberal on gay rights and abortion and less supportive of affirmative action. Moreover, Hispanic parents who have emigrated to the US are more likely to be optimistic that their lives will improve than their children who were born here. "Part of the assimilation process is feeling stable enough to criticize the system," Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based senior fellow at the New America Foundation told the New York Times.

The Republican administration has identified Latinos as one of the critical groups of swing voters in the next election. The US president, George Bush, won 35% of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and, according to one of his senior advisers, Matthew Dowd, will have to win at least 40% of their votes next year. More than half of all Latinos are concentrated in just three states - California, Texas and New York. Add Florida, where 17% of the population is Hispanic, and you have more than half the electoral college votes needed to win the presidency.

A report by Adam Segal, editor of the John Hopkins Journal of American Politics, said political candidates for governor, the House and the Senate spent at least $8m on more than 12,000 adverts in Spanish in the 2002 campaign.

"In this country you can mostly identify your Republican voters and Democratic voters and independent voters," said Frank Guerra of Guerra DeBerry and Coody, the San Antonio advertising agency that has created some Spanish-speaking political ads in Texas and Florida. "There is not a lot of open room there. But here is a segment of people, the fastest growing, the largest minority group in America, and fully 25% can go in either direction."

But with almost half of all Latinos under the age of 25, and that proportion set to grow, politicians and marketers are going to have to refine their message even more to target a community less defined by language and more fragmented by culture.

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