October 1, 2012

A Record 24 Million Latinos Are Eligible to Vote, But Turnout Rate Has Lagged That of Whites, Blacks

Trends in Latino Voter Participation

A record 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This is up by more than 4 million, or 22%, since 2008, when 19.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote.1

Due to their ongoing  population growth, Latinos comprise a greater share of the nation’s eligible voters than they did just a few years ago—11.0% this year, up from 9.5% in 2008 and 8.2% in 2004 (Lopez and Taylor, 2009).

However, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged that of whites and blacks by substantial margins. In 2008, for example, 50% of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65% of blacks and 66% of whites (Lopez and Taylor, 2009).

Also, despite Latino population growth, the number of Latinos who said they are registered to vote fell by about 600,000 between 2008 and 2010, according to Census Bureau data. This was the only significant decline in the number of Latino registered voters in the past two decades.2

There is not yet any nationwide data on Latino voter registration levels so far in 2012. In the only four states that report such records by ethnicity—Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina—the 2012 registration levels of Hispanics have already surpassed the 2008 levels. However, these states are not necessarily representative of the nation as a whole; more so than most other states, they have experienced very rapid growth in their Hispanic population in recent years.

Latinos are the nation’s largest minority group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 there were 51.9 million Latinos in the U.S., making up 16.7% of the nation’s population.

As the number of Latino eligible voters has grown, so too has the number of Latinos casting votes in presidential elections. In 2008, 9.7 million Latinos cast a vote—a record then, and up from 7.6 million in 2004, also a record year.3 In addition, Latinos represent a growing share of voters. In 2008, Hispanics made up 7.4% of all voters, up from 6.0% in 2004 (Lopez and Taylor, 2009).

Nonetheless, Hispanics are still a smaller part of the potential electorate than might be expected given their rapid population growth and share of the general population. For example, according to the Pew Hispanic analysis, more than 25 million blacks are eligible to vote in 2012 as are more than 152 million whites—both larger than the Hispanic electorate.

Part of the reason for this difference is that Hispanics are younger and less likely to hold citizenship than other groups. Overall, more than half (55%) of all Hispanics are not eligible to vote because they are under age 18 or are an adult that does not hold U.S. citizenship. By comparison, about one-in-five (21%) whites, less than one-third (31%) of blacks and 46% of Asians are ineligible to vote.

This report explores electoral participation trends among Hispanics in recent presidential election cycles. It also provides a snapshot of the geography and demography of the Hispanic vote in 2012, with a special focus on the so-called “battleground states.” Accompanying this report are state profiles of Latino eligible voters in 41 states and the District of Columbia, each based on data from the 2010 American Community Survey. Also accompanying this report is an interactive mapshowing key characteristics of Latino voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

About This Report

This report explores trends in Latino voter participation in U.S. presidential elections. It also examines the geographic distribution of Latino voters across the U.S.

The data for this report are derived from three main sources. The first is the November Voting and Registration Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly survey of about 55,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS is representative of the non-institutionalized population of the U.S. It does not include data on the voting behavior of enlisted military personnel and those who are institutionalized. The November Voting and Registration Supplement of the CPS is one of the richest sources of information available about the characteristics of voters. It is conducted after Election Day and relies on survey respondent self-reports of voting and voter registration. In addition to the November Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey, this report also uses the August 2012 Current Population Survey.

The second data source is the 2010 American Community Survey (1% IPUMS). The 2010 provides detailed geographic, demographic and economic characteristics for Latino and non-Latino eligible voters and is the main source for the state-level analysis of this report.

Voter registration data for Latino voters in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina are from voter registration statistics published by each state.

Accompanying this report are state profiles of Latino eligible voters in 41 states and the District of Columbia.4 Also accompanying this report is an interactive map showing key characteristics of Latino voters in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This report was written by Mark Hugo Lopez. Analysis for the report was provided by Seth Motel and Eileen Patten. Motel and Patten wrote the state fact sheet reports. Paul Taylor provided editorial guidance and comments. Jeffrey Passel and Rakesh Kochhar provided comments. Antonio Rodriguez provided research assistance. Eileen Patten number-checked the report. Bruce Drake was the copy editor.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.

References to other races and ethnicities are to the non-Hispanic components of those populations. “Asian” does not include Pacific Islanders.

“Eligible voters” refers to persons ages 18 and older who are U.S. citizens.

For findings based on CPS data, “registered voters” refers to persons who self-report that they are registered to vote in the November Voting and Registration Supplement of the CPS.

For findings based on state voter registration data, “registered voters” refers to tallies of registered voters reported by state election officials.

“Voters” are those who say they voted in the Voting and Registration Supplement of the CPS.

“Voter turnout rate” is the share of eligible voters who say they voted.

“Battleground states” were identified by the Pew Research Center using state ratings in September from The Cook Political Report, MSNBC, The New York Times, Real Clear Politics, Karl Rove, CNN, Pollster.com and the Washington Post.

  1. Eligible voters are U.S. citizens ages 18 and older.
  2. Hispanic voter registration dropped from 4.6 million people in 1988 to 4.4 million people in 1990.
  3. Similar electoral participation patterns are evident in midterm election cycles. In 2010, a record 6.6 million Latinos voted. For an analysis of Latino voter participation trends during midterm election years, see Lopez (2011).
  4. There are nine states whose Hispanic eligible voter samples (U.S. citizens, ages 18 and older) in the 2010 American Community Survey are not large enough to generate reliable estimates for the profiles: Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.