Latino voters are a key voting bloc this November and could help sway competitive races from California to New Jersey. A new report released Monday focused attention on some 25 competitive House districts where Latino voters could make a sizable difference this fall and underscored the need for campaigns and political parties to invest in outreach now as the Latino voting population surges.
The report, a collaboration between UnidosUS and the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of Southern California, charts demographic shifts that forecast the Latino population will grow more than 50 percent in the next two decades to 87.5 million — representing nearly a quarter of all Americans.
As six in 10 Latinos are under age 35, they’ll be the youngest major ethnic or racial group in the country. Still, their support at the polls for either party isn’t guaranteed.
“Many pundits and political operators continue to rely on a shallow understanding of the Latino electorate, and either act surprised when Latinos determine the outcome of an election, or ignore factors like lack of outreach and investment when these voters do not turn out,” the report states. “By continuing to misunderstand or undervalue this electorate, those who manage and advise political campaigns miss opportunities to register, engage, and persuade eligible Latino citizens to vote.”
Part of the case for investing in Latino voter registration, according to the report, is that their turnout when they’re on the voter rolls — at least in presidential cycles — “is close to that of registered voters in other groups, or upwards of 80 [percent.]”
To wit, the report notes the “Latino share of total votes cast nationwide was very close to the Latino share of the U.S. registered voter population — 9.2 [percent] and 9.7 [percent], respectively.”
But young Latinos, those ages 18–24 years old, aren’t keeping up and have a significantly lower turnout rate than their non-Latino peers. Last cycle saw a 34.3 percent turnout rate for Latino U.S. citizens in that age group. By comparison, the turnout rate “among registered youth in this same age cohort” was 74.5 percent.
But that isn’t true across the board, the researchers added. “There are congressional districts where Latino youth actually outperform older Latino voters,” including in Wyoming, Iowa and the Carolinas.
Now, midterms are another turnout blackhole. “Since 1996, turnout for Latino citizens of voting age during midterm elections was 11 to 21 percentage points lower than Latino turnout during presidential elections, with the largest drop-off in the number of voters occurring between the 2012 and 2014 elections,” the report states.
The researchers have a solution: “More intense outreach, particularly during midterm elections, is key to encouraging more of those voting in presidential elections to also vote in midterm elections.”
In an environment where the issue of immigration is central, and racially charged rhetoric is increasingly common, there’s some indication that the so-called “sleeping giant” of Latino voters is waking up. In California, for instance, last month’s primary turnout was the highest it’s been since 1998 — and researchers credited Latino voters for that increase.
That said, some Latino consultants told C&E they aren’t yet seeing increased interest in targeting Latino voters. “Most consultants on the right and even on the left are behind the eight ball when it comes to investing in messaging [to] the Latino electorate — out of fear of doing a poor job and hurting their campaigns,” said Luis Alvarado, a California-based GOP consultant.