Claudia Ruiz receives voter registration materials in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Photo: Isaac Brekken / AP)
With an eye on the fast-growing Hispanic market, State Farm Insurance Cos. will announce Thursday that it will be the lead sponsor of the largest national campaign thus far to encourage Latinos to become U.S. citizens and register to vote. That will make it the first mainstream U.S. corporation to put money behind the massive mobilization effort ahead of the November presidential vote.
State Farm, one of the country's top home and auto insurers, will inject $1 million into the "Ya Es Hora" (It's About Time) campaign. The drive - backed by the largest Spanish-language broadcast and print media in the U.S., and spearheaded by a nonpartisan outreach group, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund - could influence the agenda and outcome of the 2008 election.
In addition to the cash infusion, 4,000 State Farm agents who serve the Hispanic community across the country will provide U.S. citizenship applications and voter-registration materials to clients. More than eight million green-card holders, or legal permanent residents, currently are eligible to become U.S. citizens, and the majority are immigrants from Latin America.
Some conservative critics are wary of the campaign because Latinos have tended to support the Democratic Party.
State Farm doesn't have a political action committee and doesn't give money to any campaigns, a spokesman said, though it is likely that executives and employees associated with the company have given to both parties' candidates.
Among others, Univision Communications Inc., the largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S., and ImpreMedia LLC, the largest Spanish-language newspaper publisher in the U.S., have devoted airtime and pages, respectively, to boost Hispanic civic participation ahead of the presidential election. State Farm kicked off its public-service effort last year.
Hispanics constitute the largest minority group in the U.S., numbering 47 million and accounting for about 15.5% of the population. About one-quarter of Latino adults are illegal immigrants. Already the youngest and fastest-growing group, Hispanics will account for one in every four Americans by 2050, according to Census Bureau projections.
But Hispanics appear to lag behind the average in purchasing home- and auto-insurance coverage. A 2005 study by Florida State University found that 55% of Hispanics have auto insurance, compared with 80% of the general population; 33% of Hispanics who own their homes have homeowner's insurance, versus 63% of non-Hispanics.
"The demographic trends tell us where" to invest, said Mike Fernandez, vice president for public affairs at State Farm. The company has partnered with NALEO before to train educational policy makers working to close the achievement gap between Latino and non-Latino students.
State Farm only offers auto insurance to people with a legal U.S. driver's license - meaning that illegal immigrants would be precluded from buying its policies except in the handful of states where they are allowed to get licenses. That means the bulk of any gains that State Farm realizes in the Hispanic market will have to come from legal residents.
Historically, Latinos have had a lower voter-participation rate than other groups, but immigrant Hispanic voters tend to show higher rates of participation than U.S.-born Latinos. Barack Obama and John McCain will address the annual NALEO conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who won more support among Latinos than Sen. Obama in Democratic primaries, is scheduled to address the gathering Thursday.
The TomÃ¡s Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California projects that at least 9.3 million Hispanic voters will go to the polls in November, an increase of 23% from 2004.
State Farm's $1 million will go to hiring more staff, setting up a permanent information hotline and spreading the Ya Es Hora campaign to smaller towns.