By Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, Director, Civic Engagement, NCLR
Today, one in every six people in our country is of Latino origin, representing the fastest growing segment of the American electorate. This Election Day, we will see approximately 12 million Latinos cast a vote—an increase of at least 23 percent over 2008 levels. In one of the closest elections in years, Hispanics are poised to make a difference in several key battleground states including Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. And with razor thin margins, the Latino vote could be the winning factor in states such as Virginia and Ohio.
However, Hispanic influence carries beyond just the Presidential election; the balance in the U.S. Senate hinges upon this election, and these races are enormous indicators of the growing influence of the Latino vote. For example, Latinos will have a decisive hand in the outcomes of the Arizona and Nevada races, and could also tilt the scales in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia, to name a few.
But what are they voting for? Latinos this year are being especially pragmatic. They are prepared to roll up their sleeves to solve problems, and also see a role for government in that equation. Top-of-mind issues for Latino voters are jobs and the economy, which is fairly consistent across the years and not surprising given the impact of the economic and foreclosure crises on this community. Latino voters are looking at candidates for specific plans that address the employment needs of the hardest hit communities, that prioritize job creation, and that will prevent families from losing their homes. But the importance of immigration should not be downplayed; immigration policy has risen to a top issue for Latinos, particularly fueled by the anti-Latino sentiment underlying the immigration debate, and the impact on the civil rights of the community. And this election season, Latinos are looking at the tone and policies candidates have put forward on this issue.
A recently released Impremedia/Latino Decision Election Eve Poll of Latino voters underscores this pragmatic view. On deficit reduction, a plurality of Latinos support a balanced approach that includes tax increases and spending cuts (42 percent), with a close 35 percent supporting raising taxes on the wealthy. On health care, Latinos believe government has a role to play in ensuring people have access to care, and that the Affordable Care Act should stand (61 percent).
The Latino community is guaranteed to become a greater share of the electorate with each passing election. From now until 2028, an average of 890,000 Latino citizen children will turn 18 every year, adding 15.8 million potential voters to the electorate, along with another 10 million Latinos that are currently eligible to register, underscoring the essential need for voter registration strategies. That said, demographics alone will not gain Latinos the clout needed to advance economically and socially across the country. Latinos still must register, vote, and hold their elected officials accountable for achieving the social change and economic opportunity needed.