Power surge: Record number of Latinos voted in 2010

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A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center reported that a million more Latinos voted in 2010 than did so in the 2006 midterm election.

This is partly due to the young population coming to voting age. Every year, more than a half million Latinos turn 18, and in the four years between those two elections, one and a half million immigrants became citizens. In total, an additional 3.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote in 2010 than in 2006.

And those numbers are probably on the low side: a Texas civil rights group has just filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that the 2010 Census failed to count as many as one-tenth of the Latinos living in the state.

As a share of the electorate, Latinos made up 6.9 percent of the 96 million voters in 2010, up from 5.8 percent of the 96.1 million voters four years earlier.

Though this increase is significant, it also reveals a continuing problem, given that the increase in voters doesn't equal the increase in voting-age population. Latino voter turnout still lags far behind that of whites and African Americans: while almost half of white eligible voters turned out in 2010, and 44 percent of black voters, only 31 percent of Latinos went to the polls. (A similar gap exists for presidential elections).

Another problem in terms of the potential power of the Latino population is that only 42 percent are eligible to vote, compared with 77 percent of whites, 67 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of Asians.

Latino organizations point to the fact that with a youthful population, get-out-the-vote efforts have to be focused on those younger voters (who also have the lowest turnout rates). This includes, they say, more materials in English. Among those organizations are VotoLatino and SEIU's Mi Familia Vota.

Despite some chatter about the potential for Latino voters to turn on the Democrats due to disappointment over inaction on immigration reform, exit polls show them solidly Democratic. In last fall's Congressional races, they voted for the Democratic candidates by 22 points.

According to David Leal, a University of Texas professor, "Latinos have generally prioritized the same basic issues that everyone else sees as important." A Pew study released before the 2008 presidential election indicated that Latinos placed the economy, education and health care at the top of their lists.

However, since Arizona passed its draconian anti-immigration law, concern about the issue has risen dramatically. Said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez foundation, "The Obama administration is supported by Latinos, but the community also is expecting something in return for its vote ... Latino voters [do not] go back and forth. ... They don't swing Republican. They get mad and stay home."

Image: Tricia Wang // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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