A record number of Latinos voted in the 2012 presidential election, and they played a decisive role. But that’s only the beginning of the story of the future Latino electorate. In fact, the Latino voting bloc is likely to double in size within a generation, according to new analysis from the Pew Hispanic Center.
The nation's 53 million Latinos comprise 17 percent of the total US population now. While that group represented but 10 percent of all voters this year, according to the national polling exit poll, Latinos’ share of the electorate will rise fast. Several reasons make that inevitable.
Most important among those reasons is that Latinos are by far the nation's youngest ethnic group. Their median age is 27—and that drops to just 18 among native-born Spanish speakers. That compares with 42 years of age for white non-Hispanics. In the coming decades, Latinos’ share of the electorate will rise impressively, simply due to generational replacement.
In fact, Pew Hispanic Center projections indicate that Hispanics will account for 40 percent of the growth in the eligible electorate in the US between now and 2030. In that year, 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, up from the current 23.7 million. Pew Hispanic Center looked at US Census Bureau data, Election Day exit polls and a new nationwide survey of Hispanics to arrive at the determination.
On top of that increase in population, the number of votes that Latinos actually cast in future elections would easily double within two decades if their relatively low voter participation and naturalization rates increased to the levels of other groups.
If the national exit poll’s estimate that 10 percent of all voters this year were Hispanic is correct, it would mean that as many as 12.5 million Hispanics cast ballots. But even more helpful to the topic is an understanding of the reasons that more than 40 million Latinos in the United States didn’t vote or weren’t eligible to vote this year. Those non-voters are:
Adults who were eligible to vote but chose not to (11.2 million): The estimated 44-53 percent turnout rate of eligible Hispanic voters in 2012 was roughly similar to the 50 percent who turned out in 2008. But it still likely lags well below the turnout rate of whites and blacks this year.
Adult legal permanent residents (5.4 million): The naturalization rate among legal immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean trails that of other legal immigrants by a sizable margin – 49 percent versus 72 percent. A major reason Hispanic immigrants naturalize is to gain civil and legal rights, including the right to vote. A new Pew Hispanic survey also finds that more than nine out of 10 (93 percent) Latino immigrants who have not naturalized yet say they would if they could. Of those who haven't, many cite administrative costs and barriers, a lack of English proficiency and a lack of initiative. Latino voters’ strong turnout this year just might encourage more legal immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
Adult unauthorized immigrants (7.1 million): This group would only become eligible to vote if Congress were to pass a law creating a pathway to citizenship for them. Post-election comments of leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers revive hopes of future comprehensive immigration reform, fueled by Latinos' strong showing at the polls.
Too young to vote (17.6 million): The vast majority of Latino youth are US-born citizens. They will automatically become eligible to vote once they turn 18. Today, some 800,000 young Latinos turn 18 each year. But by 2030, this number could grow to 1 million per year, adding a potential electorate of more than 16 million new Latino voters to the rolls by 2030.
Generational replacement alone will push the age- and citizen-eligible Latino electorate to about 40 million within two decades. If the turnout rate of this electorate over time converges with that of whites and blacks in recent elections (66 percent and 65 percent, respectively, in 2008), that will mean twice as many Latino voters could be casting ballots in 2032 as did in 2012.
The rising numbers of Latino voters pave the way for a new political agenda that will include issues this group values. This might include a renewed urgency in passing the DREAM Act and the long-overdue overhaul of the U.S. immigration law. A previous report on Allvoices demonstrated the critical role that Latino voters played in re-electing President Obama, particularly in a few critical swing states. Politicians who denigrate, downplay or, worse, insult the electorate of people of color will find themselves on the losing side of history. As numbers shift, the power differential is bound to shift also.
What will that difference look like?
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