Latino Voters and the 2014 Midterm Elections
Chapter 1: The Geography of Latino Voters
The Latino population is among the fastest growing in the nation, and has dispersed across the U.S. over the past two decades (Brown and Lopez, 2012). This has resulted in a growing Latino presence among eligible voters in many parts of the country.
Latino Voters in Congressional Districts
Hispanics make up 10.7% of eligible voters nationwide but the Hispanic eligible voter population is concentrated in relatively few of the 435 Congressional districts of the 113th Congress. For example, half (50%) of Hispanic eligible voters are in 66 districts, each with 100,000 or more Hispanic eligible voters. And the 157 congressional districts with at least 50,000 Hispanic eligible voters together contain about 76% of all Hispanic eligible voters.
California’s 40th District has the highest share of Hispanic eligible voters. Located in the Los Angeles area, 77.6% of eligible voters in California’s 40th are Hispanic. Following California’s 40th are four districts in Texas: the 34th District (76.6%), 16th District (73.5%), 15th District (71.4%) and 28th District (66.6%). All four are located along the U.S.-Mexico border either in the Rio Grande Valley or in El Paso. These five Congressional districts are currently controlled by Democrats. Among the 10 districts with the highest share of Hispanic eligible voters, eight are controlled by Democrats. The two Republican incumbents among these 10 represent districts in South Florida with large Cuban populations—Florida’s 27th District and 25th District.
By contrast, in seven congressional districts, less than 1% of eligible voters are Latino. Ohio’s 6th District has a Latino eligible share of just 0.5%—the lowest in the nation. The six other Congressional districts and their Latino eligible voter shares are: Kentucky’s 5th District (0.6%), West Virginia’s 3rd District (0.7%) and 1st District (0.7%), Virginia’s 9th District (0.8%), Maine’s 2nd District (0.9%) and Mississippi’s 2nd District (0.9%). In four of these seven districts, incumbents are Republicans.
The vast majority (96%) of Hispanic eligible voters live in districts without a close Congressional race this year. In the 14 Congressional districts with competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives this year, Hispanics account for 13.6% of eligible voters on average, but the share in each district varies widely,11 The competitive districts with the highest share of Hispanic eligible voters are Florida’s 26th District (62%), California’s 26th District (31%) and Arizona’s 2nd District (20%). In each district, respectively, the incumbents are Joe Garcia (D), Julia Brownley (D) and Ron Barber (D).
In six competitive districts, Hispanics make up less than 5% of eligible voters. Democrats control all but one of these districts (Iowa’s 3rd District is an open seat last held by a Republican.
Latino Voters in the States
Among the nation’s Latino eligible voters, more than two-thirds live in just six states — California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona and Illinois. California and Texas alone contain about half (46.3%) of all Hispanics, and half (46.4%) of all Hispanic eligible voters.
In New Mexico, Hispanics make up 40.1% of eligible voters, the highest share in the nation. New Mexico is followed by Texas (27.4%), California (26.9%), Arizona (20.3%) and Florida (17.1%).
Over the past decade, the Hispanic population has grown most quickly among states in the southeast (Brown and Lopez, 2012). However, much of the growth has come from people not eligible to vote: immigrants (many of whom are not U.S. citizens) and those under 18. For example, in North Carolina, the number of Hispanics has more than doubled since 2000 and Hispanics now make up 9% of the state’s population. But the share of Hispanics falls to 3.1% among the state’s eligible voters since so many Hispanics who live in North Carolina are not eligible to vote. Overall, just 25.3% of Hispanics in North Carolina are at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen, the lowest share across the states. Nationally, 44.6% of all Hispanics are at least 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen.
In the case of eligible voters, some of the fastest growing states are in the Southeast. Since 2006, the number of Hispanic eligible voters has grown fastest in South Carolina (126.2%), Tennessee (113.7%) and Alabama (110.5%).
Latino Voters and Competitive Senate Races
About 1.2 million Hispanic eligible voters live in the eight states with competitive Senate races this year, making up on average just 4.7% of eligible voters. Nationally, 10.7% of all eligible voters are Hispanic.
This year, Latinos make up more than 4.7% of eligible voters in three competitive Senate states – Colorado (14.2%), Kansas (6.0%) and Alaska (4.8%). Colorado alone accounts for 45% of Latino eligible voters in all competitive Senate states. North Carolina has the next highest number of Latino eligible voters, and accounts for 19% of all eligible voters in competitive states. But due to North Carolina’s relatively large population, Latinos account for only about 3% of the state’s 7 million eligible voters.
The Hispanic electorate is small in both size and share in some states with competitive Senate races. For example, in Kentucky, 51,000 Hispanic eligible voters account for 1.6% of the state’s 3.3 million total eligible voters.
Latino Voters and Competitive Gubernatorial Races
Hispanics are better represented among the electorate in states with competitive races for governor compared with states with competitive Senate races. On average, 7.9% of eligible voters are Hispanic in the nine states with close gubernatorial races, more than the 4.7% share in competitive Senate races. This year there are 36 governor races.
In Florida, the 2.3 million Hispanics eligible to vote make up 17% of eligible voters in the state, the highest share of any competitive gubernatorial state. Some 14.2% of eligible voters in Colorado, 10.3% of eligible voters in Connecticut and 9.5% of eligible voters in Illinois are Hispanic, each higher than the 7.9% average across the states with close gubernatorial races.
Competitive gubernatorial states with a high share of Latino eligible voters also tend to have large numbers of Latino eligible voters. The three most populous states on this measure are Florida (2.3 million), Illinois (846,000) and Colorado (524,000). By contrast, Maine’s 11,000 Latino eligible voters account for just 1% of the state’s eligible voters.
Latinos make up a growing part of the electorate in competitive gubernatorial states. For example, in Florida, the number of Latino eligible voters increased from 2.1 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2012, while the Latino eligible voter share increased by 1.2 percentage points over the same period.