June 27, 2005

Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters

I. Overview

Hispanics accounted for half of the population growth in the United States between the elections of 2000 and 2004 but only one-tenth of the increase in the total votes cast, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.1

This gap between the very substantial growth of the Hispanic population and much more modest growth in Hispanic electoral clout has been developing for a generation but has widened considerably in recent years.

It is primarily the result of the two key demographic factors that distinguish Latinos from whites and blacks in the electoral arena: a high percentage of Hispanics are either too young to vote or are ineligible because they are not citizens.

As a result, a population increase of 5.7 million Latinos between 2000 and 2004 yielded only 2.1 million new eligible voters. In addition, Hispanic voter participation rates lag those of whites or blacks so that the number of Hispanic voters increased by just 1.4 million.

The combination of demographic factors and participation rates meant that 18 percent of the total Latino population (adults as well as children, citizens and non-citizens) went to the polls in 2004, compared with 51 percent of all whites and 39 percent of all blacks.

Despite these factors, however, the Hispanic population has been growing at such a strong rate that it still has led to an increase—albeit a small one—in the Hispanic share of the overall electorate. In November, 2004, Hispanics accounted for 6.0 percent of all votes cast, up from 5.5 percent four years earlier. During this same period, the Hispanic share of the population rose from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 14.3 percent in 2004.

The Hispanic population is not only much larger than the Hispanic electorate but it also differs in some key characteristics, including language usage. The share of Latino adults living in households where only Spanish is spoken is three times higher in the general population than it is among voters.

This report relies primarily on a supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS) that is conducted every November of an election year. The CPS is the large monthly survey of U.S. households conducted by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics which is best known as a source of unemployment rates. The November supplements ask whether individuals were registered to vote and whether they actually voted but do not ask which candidates or political parties they supported. Thus, the CPS data does not directly provide any information on how Hispanics voted in the 2004 election.

However, these data shed some new light on a lingering controversy surrounding the extent of Hispanic support for President George W. Bush last year. An analysis of the 2004 exit poll data in conjunction with this new CPS data suggests that Bush’s share of the Hispanic vote last year was probably closer to 40 percent than to the 44 percent widely reported last year by news organizations that had relied on national exit poll data.

Some of the major findings in this report include:

The November supplements to the CPS, which are the primary source of data for this report, are generally considered an authoritative source of data on the socio-economic characteristics of the electorate. (DeSipio, 2004; Ramakrishnan and Espenshade, 2001; Cassell, 2002.) It is, for example, the only source of information on whether voters are native or foreign-born, which is a critical variable in examining the Hispanic population. Moreover, the November CPS is by far the largest national survey that provides data on the size and characteristics of the full population, eligible voters, registered voters and actual voters.

All surveys are subject to discrepancies due to margins of error and other factors. This is true of the CPS although it is a very large survey regularly conducted of the American public with an average monthly sample of about 140,000 individuals. The November election year supplements of the CPS routinely show a larger number of persons voting than the actual count. So, the November 2004 CPS reports that 125.74 million persons reported voting in the 2004 national election while the official count of votes for the 2004 Presidential contest is 122.28 million in the Federal Register. The discrepancy is 3.5 million votes or about 3 percent of the official count. The CPS supplement is taken after election day and relies on individuals’ self-reporting of their voting behavior. The difference between the CPS and the official count results from two factors: Some people report having voted when they did not, and some ballots do not get counted because the voter did not mark them properly, a voting machine misread them and other reasons (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). The CPS covers the civilian, noninstitutional population resident in the country. Almost all active duty military (either in the United States or abroad), as well as persons in institutions (for example, nursing homes and correctional facilities), are not included.

The Pew Hispanic Center was founded in 2001 with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center conducts non-partisan research that aims at improving understanding of the Hispanic population. It is a project of the Pew Research Center.

  1. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably. The terms “white” and “black” refer to non-Hispanics in those racial categories.