By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
Since election night, one topic of immense interest to me has dominated the news cycle: the impact of the Latino vote on the 2012 election. After years of being treated as one of the best-kept secrets in politics, the need to reach out to Latino voters has suddenly become the hot topic of conversation for people on both sides of the aisle—even Sean Hannity. It has all the makings of not only a political phenomenon but a cultural phenomenon as well. In fact, if this were a sitcom, it would be called “The New Normal.” And this “New Normal” is not just about 2012; for several key reasons, our community’s clout is only going to grow in every election from here on out.
First, Latino voters have cemented themselves as a permanent part of the electorate. One reason why pundits who predicted a Romney landslide got it so wrong is that they assumed communities of color, and especially Latinos, would not vote at the same levels as they did in 2008. In fact, not only did Latino voters match their 2008 turnout, they surpassed it. We knew from our own surveys and analyses that Hispanic voters are deeply engaged in the political process and were very enthusiastic about participating in this year’s contest. But now Latinos also know that they have a voice. That voice made a difference, and they intend to keep using it.
Second, the size of that voice is going in only one direction: up. The Hispanic electorate grew by 26% between 2008 and 2012 to just a hair under 12 million voters. But Latinos are still significantly underrepresented in the American electorate. Yes, it’s true that only 50% of Hispanics over the age of 18 are registered to vote, but that is because a number of people are not yet citizens. Even so, there are 7.6 million Hispanic U.S. citizens eligible to vote who have not registered. No other significant group of voters, with the exception of voters ages 18 to 29, has such a gap. With real attention and real investment, these potential voters could be the low-hanging fruit for nonpartisan voter registration efforts.
Not only has the Latino vote become a fast-growing permanent fixture in electoral politics, it is poised to permanently change the electoral map. There is no question that the growing presence of Hispanic voters has made states such as Colorado, Nevada, Florida, and even Virginia into perennial swing states, but the Latino vote could do the same in other states sooner than conventional wisdom anticipates.
Almost one-third of Arizonans and nearly 40% of Texans are Hispanic. Yet in both states the number of eligible Hispanics over 18 who are eligible, but not yet registered to vote is significant: as much as 400,000 in Arizona and more than two million in Texas. In essence, a fully registered Hispanic vote would put both of these states into play.
Here’s the bottom line for both parties and all those working to increase political participation in this country: the 2012 electorate, which includes millions of Hispanic voters, has become an American reality that should be embraced by all.