Although Hispanics make up about 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, these numbers have not translated into equivalent electoral power. A new study attempts to answer why.

There are 35 million Hispanics in the United States, but it is estimated that less than six million of them voted in national elections in November 2000.

Rodolfo de la Garza, vice president of Research at the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and political science professor at Columbia University, says one reason is that candidates are not wooing the right segments of the Latino population. "Campaigns should target young people, low income people, less educated people," he said. "That's where the growth rate is. That's where the non-voters are."

He says his research shows that instead, candidates have been tailoring their messages to attract highly-educated and older Latino voters. "Latino candidates and people trying to win the Latino vote are following exactly the wrong strategy," said Rodolfa de la Garza.

Another problem, according to Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research organization, is that candidates often do not understand the politics of Hispanic voters. He says Hispanics have concerns that often blend the lines between mainstream partisan definitions of "liberal" and "conservative." "Latino Democrats differ from White Democrats quite noticeably on social issues," he said. "And Latino Republicans differ from White Republicans on tax issues."

In some U.S. states, including Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, non-U.S. citizens, who have legally immigrated, are permitted to take part in local elections in the communities where they live. Mr. Suro says this is one route to eventually wider Hispanic participation in national politics. "I suspect anything you do that opens the franchise to more people, particularly if you have a population of people who are eligible to become citizens and they get to vote, you would think that if you're able to vote in the local election and you actually go and do it, you might want to vote in elections for federal office, which would require becoming a [U.S.] citizen," said Roberto Suro.

And which party would they support? Mr. Suro says since Hispanic voters do not fit neatly into either of the two major parties mainstreams, their allegiance sometimes shifts from one election to the next.

Nevertheless, Mollyann Brodie, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation says the the Pew Hispanic Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation study released Thursday found strong support for positions generally identified with the Democratic party. "You'll note that Latinos are considerably more likely to say that they prefer a larger government that provides more services even if it means paying higher taxes, than they are to say they prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services," she said.

Not surprisingly then, researchers found that about half of the 1,300 Latinos surveyed identified themselves as Democrats. Only 20 percent claimed to be Republican.