BY GENE A. BUDIG

and ALAN HEAPS

The 2016 elections have moved into high gear. Candidates at all levels, along with their political parties, are jockeying for position.

This unfolding story has many subplots. One of the most intriguing is the heated competition for the Hispanic vote.

In the 2014 elections, it is estimated that Hispanics made up only 8 percent of the votes. So why the intense interest in this particular electorate?

There are four compelling reasons.

One, the competition for Hispanic political support is not just about the present. It is also about the future. The Hispanic population is growing faster than most other groups. Today it is 18 percent of the total population. By 2040 it will be 24 percent. By 2060 it will be 29 percent.

Two, in some geographic areas Hispanics are already a major political force. Eight states each have more than a million Hispanics. The 10 largest metropolitan areas have Hispanic populations ranging from 21 percent (Chicago) to 66 percent (Miami).

Three, elections are expensive. (More than $6 billion was spent in the 2012 presidential and congressional races.) With current annual buying power of $1.5 trillion (projected to rise nearly $2 trillion in 2020), Hispanics have the potential to become big-time political donors.

Four, elections are often decided by narrow margins. Small shifts can make a big difference. In the 2014 elections, Hispanics favored Democrats over Republicans by 28 percentage points. This is a big margin but it is down considerably from the 38 percentage point difference in the 2012 elections.

But the path to Hispanic political support is not clear. They are not a monolithic group. For example, there is diversity in:

country of origin (e.g. more than half a million from each of 11 different countries);

length of time in the U.S. (e.g. one third are foreign born);

first language (25 percent are primary English speakers, 36 percent are bilingual, and 38 percent are primary Spanish speakers);

place of residence (50 percent in cities, 38 percent in suburbs, and 12 percent in rural communities); and

income levels (of working households, 31 percent make less than $25,000, 48 percent between $25,000 and $74,999, and 21 percent over $75,000).

Despite these differences, there are also shared values and outlooks which, for the most part, reflect the priorities of other groups. According to a recent poll, the top three issues for registered Hispanic voters are education, the economy/jobs, and health care. (Immigration is a distant fourth.)

Hispanics have good reason to be concerned about these issues. The high school dropout rate for all races is 7 percent but for Hispanics it is 14 percent. The poverty rate for all races is 15 percent but for Hispanics it is 24 percent. The percent of all races without health insurance is 13 percent but for Hispanics it is 24 percent.

There are more than 50 million Hispanics in America, and while they may or may not play a prominent role in the upcoming presidential election, their votes will certainly have a major impact on many state and local elections.

Add to this the numerical growth in the upcoming decades and we have a juggernaut in the making.

This is good news for America.

The world is changing every day. This country needs many perspectives. It needs constant renewal.

It needs to involve all those who live here.

Our politicians are smart to pursue the Hispanic vote, but their efforts are not enough. All of us need to include this growing and vibrant population in all we do.

Gene A. Budig is past president of three major universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas) and of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board.