April 27th, 2011
Almost 15 Million Latinos “Sat Out” 2010 Midterm Election

A recent article in the Washington Post says that 14.7 million Latinos sat out the 2010 midterm elections. I’m not sure that that’s entirely accurate. The numbers come from the Pew Hispanic Center, but it’s not the numbers I have an issue with. It’s the statement I find troubling.

To sit something out is an intentional act; it is intended to send a message. I don’t think that’s what happened here.

I think the better part of 14.7 million Latinos were not engaged in the midterms. Some are not engaged at all, and few others may have decided to intentionally sit it out. Here are a few things to consider:

  • less people vote in midterm elections, in general.
  • but even with a smaller number or participating voters, the Latino vote was lower than the norm.

A quick breakdown, according to the Washington Post:

About 31 percent of eligible Latino and Asian voters cast ballots in the 2010 congressional elections, compared with 49 percent of eligible white voters and 44 percent of eligible blacks, according to the Pew report.

Here’s what’s really interesting to me. Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Center and author of the report, said that the total of Latino voters grew, from 5.6 million in 2006 to 6.6 million 2010. What’s more, the number of Latinos eligible to vote increased in that same period 17.3 million to 21.3 million.

Here’s a better way to look at it:

Can you see the potential?

All of this comes after polls that show that Latino support for President Obama is down, and the GOP is trying to figure out a way to get Latinos to look their way. In general we think those are good things because they raise the relevance of the Latino electorate, and with that it’s political clout. On the graph above, that would be the blue bars. What should worry us all are the piddly red bars.

The authors of the Pew study make an interesting point. They say that the low Latino election participation is due, in part, to the youth of Latino voters:

This gap in voter participation between Latinos and other groups is partly due to the large share of Latino eligible voters that are under 30. In 2010, 31.3% of Latino eligible voters were ages 18 to 29, while 19.2% of white, 25.6% of black and 20.7% of Asian eligible voters were under 30. Among young Latino eligible voters, just 17.6% voted. In contrast, among Latino eligible voters ages 30 and older, the voter turnout rate was higher—37.4%.

Typically, voters younger than 29 years are less likely to vote than older voters. So time alone can increase Latino participation?

Youth aside, there are other considerations. Some activists blame candidates for not paying attention to the Latino electorate, either with their campaign messages or with their money (political ads, organization) and voter mobilization drives. But that, I think, puts too much of the blame and onus on others.

It’s a problem we all lament. I think if more Latinos voted the candidates would pay more attention. But it’s the proverbial chicken-or-egg thing (I blaspheme, it’s not a proverb, I know), because if the candidates paid more attention to the Latino electorate more Latinos would vote – or so the thinking goes.

Think of this as a benchmark. As Latinos increase in population and age, and as immigrants become citizens, that red bar could grow on its own.  But that doesn’t mean we should let it happen on its own.

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda

[Photo By whiteafrican] [Bargraph created using Chartle]

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