Young Latino voters — an emerging giant

“The Emerging Hispanic Electorate: The Young Giant Awakens,” a survey of 1,500 Hispanics, ages 16 to 29, has just been released by Democracia, and contains both good and bad news for big and little “d,” democratic politics.

The bad news is the study reaffirmed a long-standing trend among young voters, including Latinos — they tend not to vote.

In the 2008 presidential election, for instance, there were more than 3.5 million eligible young Hispanic voters but just under 1.4 million (about 39%), cast a ballot. Considering that young people overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama (66%), a larger turnout in this age group would have greatly increased the president’s overall numbers.

Roughly half of young Hispanic voters — those 18 to 24 years old — were not even registered to vote in 2008.

The good news is the potential for this generation of Latinos to have a huge impact on politics.

For the next two decades, every year, half a million Latinos will turn 18, which the study says could make them “one of the nation’s most powerful and reliably progressive voting” block.

How does 500,000 new voters every year figure into the bigger picture?

Although the United States has a voting age population of about 230 million people, voter turnout has been below 60% for decades — even the historic 2008 presidential election only drew 57% to the polls. For mid-term elections, turnout hovers at around 37 percent or approximately 80 million people.

Therefore, shifts in numbers of eligible voters can have a major impact on politics.

When they register to vote, these young Latinos do so in the Democratic Party by a 4 to 1 ratio. Sixty-two percent choose the Democratic Party and only 16% Republican, while 22% say they are independent.

Opinions on policy issues are clearly in the Democratic camp. Young Latinos strongly favor the public sector, with 63% saying that, “government does a better job than people give it credit for,” and 66% say “government should create jobs rather than leaving it to the free market.”

In an era of economic crisis and sharp struggles at the federal, state and municipal levels over whether government should provide services and create jobs, clearly these voters have a role to play in determining the direction of the country.
Answers to other questions in the survey show the challenges that political movements face when it comes to winning support among young Latinos.

For instance, when it comes to identifying their political bent, 45% say they don’t know, 30% call themselves liberal, 13% pick “moderate, “and 12% consider themselves conservative. And these young people still believe strongly in the attainability of the American dream – 91 % say no matter how poor you start out, you can make it if you try.

Another interesting study of attitudes towards environmental issues was released in April by the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and the Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. This study shows that overwhelming majorities of Latino voters (in Florida, 80%; Nevada, 67%; Colorado, 58%) say they are more likely to vote for a U.S. Senate candidate that supports proposals for fighting global warming.

Big majorities of Latino voters in those three states consider global warming very or somewhat serious, and three out of four say Congress should take action now. Over 8 out of 10 voters in each state reject the idea that fighting global warming will hurt the American economy.

Other polls have documented the preference for Democratic candidates and policy positions among Latinos, who had not long ago been considered a “semi-swing group” of voters.

For example, one study found 68 percent of Latinos approve of the job President Obama is doing, as compared with 48 percent overall and 38 percent of whites. The “Giant Awakens” study of young Latinos put that approval rating at 73%.

Views of the Republican Party are negative and sinking. In one poll, the GOP is viewed favorably by only 22%, and on specific questions, the difference is even sharper.

Latinos believe Democrats would do a better job than Republicans in protecting the interests of minorities (58 percent to 11 percent), in representing the opportunity to move up the economic ladder (46 percent- to 20 percent), in dealing with immigration (37 percent to 12 percent), and in promoting strong moral values (33 percent-23 percent).

Photo: TriciaWang/CC