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The Latino voter lag

From msnbc.com's Tom Curry:  America’s Latino population grew almost nine times faster than its non-Latino population in the last decade, jumping from 35 million to 50 million, but an analysis of last year’s elections published Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latinos continue to underperform on Election Day.

In last fall’s elections, fewer than 7 percent of voters were Latino, even though more than 16 percent of the U.S. population is Latino.

The Pew study – based on newly released data from the Census’s Current Population Survey -- shows a widening gap over the past 20 years in midterm elections between the number of eligible Latino voters and the number who actually cast a ballot. In 2010 there were 6.6 million Latino voters out of a total of 21.3 million eligible Latino voters.

 “When you look at the Hispanic demographics, particularly among native-born Hispanics, there are an awful lot of people under the age of 18,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center and the author of the study.

“What’s happening is a lot of those young people -- about 600,000 a year in the last few years -- have been turning 18,” he explained. “They are U.S.-born and they’re eligible to vote, but as we know, young people generally vote at lower rates than we see among the general population. That’s part of the reason we see this rising gap between the number of Hispanics who are eligible to vote and the actual number who do vote.”

He added that in presidential election year, too, there’s a growing gap between eligible Latino voters and actual voters, but the gap is bigger in midterm elections. 

While less than a third of Latino eligible voters said they cast a ballot last fall, nearly half of white eligible voters said they voted and 44 percent of black eligible voters said they did.

Despite the large disparity between eligible voters and actual voters among Latinos, there was an 18.8 percent increase in the number of Latino voters in 2010 compared to the previous midterm election in 2006. That contrasts with a 3.8 percent decline in the number of white voters between the 2006 elections and last year’s elections.

Separately, exit poll survey data from last November’s balloting showed that in House races, 60 percent of Latinos voted Democratic, compared to 37 percent of white voters who did. Exit poll surveys in 2008 indicated that Barack Obama won about two out of three Latino voters.

Looking to next year’s presidential race, analysts are keen to see whether the soaring Latino population in states such as Florida, Virginia, Nevada, and Arizona will benefit Obama’s re-election bid.

Given their preference for Obama, he could gain ground in states such as Arizona and Texas, both of which he lost in 2008, simply by registering more Latino voters.

As Matt Barreto, pollster for Latino Decisions and University of Washington political scientist, said recently, “Even if there were no population growth, if you just did Latino voter registration drives, you could continue to dramatically grow the electorate.” 

You can view the full Pew report here.