The number of eligible Latino voters has leapt from 19.5 million in 2008 to an unprecedented 23.7 million nationally, according to a recently released report by the Pew Research Center.
Data from the Pew Hispanic Center’s Census Bureau show that Latinos now hold a greater share of eligible voters at 11 percent, as compared to 9.5 percent in 2008.
Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. In 2011, the 51.9 million Latinos in the nation made up 16.7 percent of the American population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
This record number, however, will not mean much if it is not followed by a higher turnout rate, according to Roberto Suro, a professor of journalism with expertise in Latino public opinion and U.S. Hispanic population growth.
“The growth in the number of voters doesn’t mean that much. This is a growing population. That number has been growing consistently for many years and will continue for many more,” Suro said. “The real question here is not how many are eligible, but how many people actually turn out.”
According to the Pew report, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has “historically lagged that of whites and blacks by substantial margins.” In the 2008 election, 50 percent of Latino voters cast their ballots, significantly lower than the 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites who turned out four years ago.
But Suro said change might be on the horizon.
“The number has been rising in the past few elections, and the question is, will the trend continue? Will we see greater participation by eligible voters in this election?” Suro said. “This is very important for the Democrats in particular because we know this vote tilts very heavily toward Democratic.”
Bringing naturalized citizens into the picture, the Center for the Study of Immigration Integration at USC recently released “Rock the (Naturalized) Vote,” a report that suggests naturalized immigrants in the Latino community might be critical as the election draws near. This demographic could be crucial to the election not only because it is the group with most room for improvement in registration rates, but also because the recently naturalized are the most sensitive to immigration concerns.
“In the past, naturalized voters, particularly for their first election, have high turnout rates,” Suro said. “It’s their first chance to vote and they tend to use the franchise when they’ve got the chance. This is a relatively newly naturalized population, so a high turnout is expected.”
Despite this record increase and rapid population growth, Latinos still make up a smaller part of the electorate. The Center for Immigration Studies, however, found that though Latino voter share varies in the 18 battleground states,;in four of the states — New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Arizona — they will be “more than 16 percent of the vote” in the next election.
“Looking at the presidential race, Latinos only have presence in a few swing states — among them Florida, Nevada and Colorado,” Suro said. “They have different types of Latino populations, but in those places, all three remain important swing states.”
As the Latino population in the United States continues to expand, native-born citizens are aging in large numbers in the electorate. Young adults, however, tend to vote less often than older adults, according to Suro. Looking into the upcoming elections, the participation of young adults “becomes a very important question politically this year,” Suro predicted.
On campus, the overall atmosphere reflects the newly charged political attitude of the youth. El Centro Chicano, an on-campus support and resource center for Latino students and their families, strives to boost political awareness among young Latino adults. El Centro Chicano will host a Leadership Development and Skill-Building series Tuesday where speakers will share experiences regarding the importance of voting and being politically aware.
Carolina Varela, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering who is involved with the organization, believes that the number of Latino voters is crucial to the election.
“I think it’s a step forward and it signifies that we, as a community, just have to encourage people, now that they’re registered, to do research, look into voting and finally go cast ballots,” Varela said.
Though it remains unclear whether the record-breaking 24 million eligible Latino voters will boost overall election turnout, Varela said the number in itself is significant to the future of the Latino community across the nation.
“We haven’t had a history of having a voice, and now that these leaders here at the university are encouraging people to go out there and vote, it’s definitely something that will help our community,” she said. “This generation of Latinos is ready to speak up and be a part of the voting process.”