By Grant Welker
Herald News Staff Reporter
Dartmouth - It was once believed that half of the area's Portuguese-Americans had
citizenship. Of those individuals, half were registered to vote, and half of
those registered actually voted.
But Portuguese-Americans vote in greater numbers than what was once believed, according to a study of voters in Fall River, New Bedford, Taunton and other cities. The Portuguese American Citizenship Project found that they were especially responsive to letters sent to their homes urging them to vote.
The study, presented Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth by Portuguese American Citizenship Project National Coordinator James McGlinchey, looked at four Catholic churches in Fall River with a large number of Portuguese-American parishioners: Espirito Santo, Santo Cristo, St. Anne's and St. Michael's.
In each church, the number of parishioners who voted often exceeded the city average by 10 to 20 percent. At Santo Cristo, for example, 59 percent of parishoners are United States citizens. Of those, three-fourths are registered voters. Santo Cristo parishioners who were registered voted at a rate of 80-percent in last November's presidential election, compared to a citywide rate of 68 percent.
At each of the four Fall River churches the Portuguese American Citizenship Project studied, parishioners in all age groups voted at a greater rate than the city average, except for St. Michael's members over age 70.
Frank Sousa, director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at UMass Dartmouth, said he agrees with the study's findings based on his familiarity with the Portuguese-American community. Gloria de Sa, faculty director for the UMass Dartmouth Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives, said she's found that voters in the Portuguese community often don't affiliate themselves with Portuguese candidates.
They usually vote only on the basis of issues and qualifications, she said.
The perception that Portuguese-Americans aren't politically active does hurt their community, McGlinchey said. If one Portuguese-American voter thinks that others aren't likely to vote, that voter won't believe his or her vote will make a difference, he said.
Many politicians also see Portuguese-Americans as apolitical, de Sa said. That tends to create a self-fulfilling prophesy, she said, because candidates might not pay as much attention to issues important to Portuguese-Americans, making them less likely to want to vote.
The study found similar trends at Catholic churches in New Bedford and Taunton. In the November 2008 presidential election, voters from Immaculate Conception and Mount Carmel churches voted at a rate at least one-fourth better than the New Bedford average.
In Taunton, voters from St. Anthony's voted at a rate 35 percent above the citywide rate in the 2006 general election.
E-mail Grant Welker at email@example.com.
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