Latinos emerged as one of the most sought after voting blocs during the 2012 presidential race. Hispanics at that time made up about 17 percent of the nation—a statistic that didn’t go unnoticed by President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In fact, Romney joked during a meeting with wealthy donors in May 2012 that he’d have a better shot of winning the presidential race if he were born to Mexican parents rather than to his Anglo father—who grew up on a Mormon commune south of the border. While that’s not necessarily true, it’s clear that in the 21st century Latinos are voting in higher numbers than ever before. In 2010 for example, 7 percent of Hispanics voted in the congressional election—the highest turnout ever for Latinos in a non-presidential race, the census reported. So, what are the major traits of the Hispanic voting bloc and what are the primary concerns of Latino voters? This overview breaks it down.
Significance of the Latino Vote
Given that Latinos are not only one of the fastest growing demographics in the nation but also one of the youngest, it’s no mystery why both Democrats and Republicans covet the Latino vote. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Hispanics will make up 30 percent of the nation by the year 2050. And that’s not all. Each month 200,000 Latinos reach 18 years old, the legal voting age, according to Sylvia R. Lazos of the University of Nevada’s William S. Boyd School of Law. Moreover, Lazos notes in the academic paper—“Latino Voters 2012 and Beyond: Will the Fastest Growing and Evolving Electoral Group Shape U.S. Politics?”—that large numbers of Hispanics live in swing states such as New Mexico, Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Latinos are clearly giving Democrats a political edge, as roughly two-thirds of Latinos identify as Democrats.
Top Concerns of Latino Voters
The Hispanic voting bloc shares the same concerns that other groups of voters do. Like most Americans, they care about the issues that will directly affect their well being. A USA Today/Gallup poll released in June 2012 found that the top 5 concerns of registered Latino voters were healthcare, unemployment, economic growth, the wealth gap and immigration—in that order. While immigration is a concern, 21 percent of Latino registered voters viewed healthcare as their top priority, compared to 12 percent who listed immigration as a priority. This finding shows that Latinos aren’t fixated on the immigration issue but first and foremost concerned with the economy—an issue that all Americans worry about. Some Latinos do cite immigration as a top priority. These Latinos are typically immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants.
Who are the Hispanics who cite immigration as a top concern? According to Gallup, 16 percent of Latino voters “who are themselves immigrants to the U.S. name immigration as a priority, similar to the 14 percent of those who were born here but with at least one parent born abroad.” On the other hand, just 7 percent of Latino voters who are U.S. natives and were born to parents who were also U.S. natives cite immigration as a priority. Moreover Lazos says that Hispanics have mixed feelings about undocumented immigrants. She cites polls that found that just 30 percent of Latinos believe that undocumented immigrants have a positive impact on U.S. society. This indicates that Latinos are not a monolith exclusively focused on border issues.
Ethnic Loyalty Among Latinos Voters
Did Mitt Romney have a point when he joked that he’d have a better chance of winning the presidential election if he had Mexican ancestry? Not necessarily. That’s because, while Latinos do say that they’re inclined to vote Latinos into office, ancestry is not the sole factor at work in their selections at the ballot booth. In 2008, for example, just 15 percent of Latinos voted for Republican Brian Sandoval in the Nevada gubernatorial race, according to Lazos. That same year, however, 67 percent of Hispanics voted for Barack Obama, a Democrat, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. This signals that Latinos, a heavily Democratic voting bloc, are more likely to vote for candidates affiliated with the party they consider to have their best interests in mind rather than with any Latino candidate.