A study produced by the Pew Research Center found that millennials make up a larger share of eligible Latino voters than other specific demographic groups. Based on U.S. Census data, Pew found that Latino millennials will account for 44 percent of the 27.3 million Latino eligible voters projected to go to the polls in 2016. This is a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.
The number of Latino millennial eligible voters, said the report, “reflects the oversized importance of youth in the U.S.-born Latino population and as a source of Latino eligible voter growth. The median age among the nation’s 35 million U.S.-born Latinos is only 19 (Stepler and Brown, 2015), and Latino youth will be the main driver of growth among Latino eligible voters over the next two decades. Between 2012 and 2016, about 3.2 million young U.S.-citizen Latinos will have advanced to adulthood and become eligible to vote, according to Pew Research Center projections. Nearly all of them are U.S. born—on an annual basis, some 803,000 U.S.-born Latinos reached adulthood in recent years.”
Many of these are the so-called ‘Dreamers’ – illegal immigrants who entered the United States as minors and since authorized to remain in the U.S. by President Barack Obama. The DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is a proposal for a multi-phase process for illegal immigrants in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency. First introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2001 by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) but has failed to pass despite several attempts in Congress. In 2012, Obama announced it was effectively incorporating the provisions of the DREAM act by executive order and would stop deporting undocumented minors who match certain criteria previously proposed under the DREAM ACT.
The rise in the number of young people, the other source of growth for the Latino electorate is found among adult Latino immigrants who reside legally in the country and decide to apply for U.S. citizenship. According to Pew, between 2012 and 2016 some 1.2 million will have done so. Third in the ranking of the source of immigrants is Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States that continues to experience out-migration due to a declining economy and mounting public debt. According to Pew, approximately 130,000 more Puerto Ricans have left the island since 2012 than moved there. Florida has been the biggest recipient of these Puerto Rican adult migrants—all of whom are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote in U.S. elections.
The coming of age of young U.S. citizens is also the principal source of growth for white and black eligible voter populations. In the case of whites, some 9.2 million U.S. citizens will turn 18 between 2012 and 2016. Among blacks, 2.3 million young people will have turned 18.
Immigration is a stable element of the Latino electorate. As is the case with young people, the share of immigrants among Hispanic eligible voters has remained steady since 2000 at about one-quarter, even as the number of Hispanic immigrant eligible voters is projected to double, from 3.3 million in 2000 to a projected 6.6 million in 2016. This is in contrast to the trend in the foreign-born share among all Hispanics, which has been in decline since 2000, falling from 40 percent then to 35 percent in 2013.
Latino Electorate Is Growing, but 2016 Impact May Be Limited
The Latino electorate, which has leaned toward the Democratic Party in presidential elections for decades, is one of the country’s most demographically dynamic groups. Its fast-growing population is increasingly college-educated. The Pew study judged that its influence in some of the key 2016 states has also grown as the Latino population has become more dispersed nationally and increased in number in some key states. According to Pew, “With this rapid growth, the Latino electorate is projected to make up a record 11.9% of all U.S. eligible voters in 2016 and will pull nearly even with blacks, who will make up 12.4%. As a result, the Latino vote may be poised to have a large impact on the 2016 presidential election. Yet, for many reasons, Latino voters are likely to once again be underrepresented among voters in 2016 compared with their share of eligible voters or their share of the national population.”
However, in 2012 the Election Day turnout rate for millennial Latinos has trailed in comparison to other groups.
Among the points raised by Pew:
• Voter turnout rates for Latinos have been significantly below those of other groups. However, the absolute number of Latino voters has increased despite a decline in voter turnout. In 2012, fewer than half (48%) of Hispanic eligible voters cast a ballot. By comparison, 64.1% of whites and 66.6% of blacks voted. Asians, at 46.9%, had a turnout rate similar to that of Hispanics. In 2012, a record 11.2 million Hispanics voted. It is possible that a record number of Hispanics could vote in 2016, continuing a pattern of record turnout in presidential elections.
• The large share (44%) of millennials among Latino eligible voters, who are less likely to cast a ballot than older voters, could have an impact on voter turnout for all Latinos in 2016. In 2012, just 37.8% of Latino millennials voted, compared with 53.9% among non-millennial Latinos.
• In addition, Latino millennials register to vote at a lower rate than other millennial groups. Half (50%) of Latino millennial eligible voters said they were registered to vote in 2012, compared with 61% among white millennials and 64% among black millennials. Among Asian millennial eligible voters, 48% were registered to vote.
While the Latino voter turnout rate could be lower than expected because of the large share of eligible voters who are millennials, the growing number of U.S. citizen immigrant Latinos may help boost Latino voter turnout rates, concluded Pew. In 2012, 53.6% of immigrant Latinos voted, a full 7.5 percentage points higher than the 46.1% voter turnout rate among U.S.-born Latinos that year. Latino immigrants also voted at a higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos in 2008—54.2% versus 48.4%.
The states where Latino voters may make a difference in the coming presidential election are Florida, Nevada and Colorado. In that trio, Latinos constitute more than 14% of eligible voters. But in just about every other state expected to have close presidential races, Latinos make up less than 5% of all eligible voters.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.