Despite the boom in America’s Hispanic population over the past decade, a recent Pew Hispanic Center report shows that surge (35.3 million to 50.5 million people between 2000 and 2010) is not reflected in Latino voting totals, which increased from 13.2 million to 21.3 million people between 2000 and 2010.
Approximately 6.6 million Latinos voted in the 2010 midterm elections, says Pew, noting that it was a record turnout for the Hispanic population. And Latinos made up a larger share of the electorate in 2010 than in any previous midterm election, representing 6.9 percent of all voters, up from 5.8 percent in 2006.
What the numbers reflect is a great under-representation of Latinos as a voting population. In 2010, 16.3 percent of the nation’s population was Latino, according to the U.S. census, but only 10.1 percent of eligible voters and less than 7 percent of actual voters were Latino.
The Pew report suggests the gap is the result of the large number of youth and non-citizens in the U.S. About 34.9 percent of Hispanics are younger than 18, and 22.4 percent are not U.S. citizens.
The percent of Latinos who are eligible to vote (42.7 percent) is much lower than eligible whites (77.7 percent), African-Americans (67.2 percent), and Asians (52.8 percent). Even among those eligible, Hispanics go to the voting points at a lower rate than other groups. In 2010, 31.2 percent of eligible Hispanic voters say they voted, compared with 48.6 percent of eligible white voters and 44 percent of black eligible voters, according to Pew.
The Washington Post predicts that under-representation among Latinos means their political influence “will fall short of their demographic strength by years, if not decades.”
The disregard for the power of the Hispanic vote is perhaps reflected in policies that negatively affect this group in the areas of immigration, education and entitlement programs.
A recent Gallup poll showed that Obama’s support among Latinos has decreased by 25 percentage points since the start of his presidency.
And as the Post points out, Obama needs Hispanic support during his re-election; yet thus far, Democrats have been unable to enact immigration policies favored by the majority of Latinos. The promising DREAM Act — creating a path to citizenship for children brought into the country illegally — failed in Congress late last year.
A Washington Post blog also notes that even if Latino voter turnout does not pick up, their electorate share will continue to grow at the rate of the population and thus — eventually — will become more important to those seeking office, both Democrats and Republicans.