The Potential Power of the Latino Vote

vote.jpgA record number of Latinos are eligible to vote this November. Both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have taken notice and targeted Hispanic voters in recent months. However, it is unclear if the extra attention will result in voter turnout at the polls.

According to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center, “a record 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election.” This is up by more than four million since 2008, when it was 19.5 million. There were nearly 52 million Latinos in the United States in 2011, about 16.7 % of the nation’s population. While the Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the country, the turnout rate among eligible Latino voters lags behind that of whites and blacks by significant margins.

According to the Census Bureau data cited in the report, despite continued growth of the Latino population, the number of Latinos who said they are registered to vote dropped by about 600,000 between 2008 and 2010.

There are several guesses as to reasons behind this decline despite the growth of the population:

  • Voter displacement – Latinos were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, many had to move to different states, which may have impacted their voter registration;
  • The Latino population is younger in general – young people vote less often than the older age groups and are less likely to hold citizenship than other groups. About a third of Latinos in the country are in the 18 to 29 age group;
  • Almost half of the potential voters live in uncontested states – Latinos live in states that are either solid red like Texas, or solid blue like California and they believe that they will not be able to make an impact; and
  • Economic recession, as well as dimmed political enthusiasm.

However, Latinos stand to play a key role in swing states. Two battleground states, Florida and South Carolina, have already published information that shows an increase in Latino voter registration from 2008. As the report points out, that may be due to an increase in the Latino populations of both states. In those states among Latino eligible voters, 58% are of Mexican origin, 14% are of Puerto Rican origin, 6% are of Cuban origin and 22% are of Central American, South American or other Hispanic origin, according to the Pew Hispanic analysis.”

The report also notes that, “This differs from the overall Hispanic origin distribution of the general U.S. Hispanic population in which some 64% are of Mexican origin, 9% are Puerto Rican and 5% are Cuban origin.” While the overall numbers might be disappointing, Latino voter registration is up in hotly contested states like Florida, where the presidential race could be decided. It comes as a surprise to not see higher voter registration overall, given that one of the major issues in this year’s election is immigration reform.