An Awakened Giant: The Hispanic Electorate Is Likely to Double by 2030

Paul Taylor et al., Pew Hispanic Center, November 14, 2012

The record number1 of Latinos who cast ballots for president this year are the leading edge of an ascendant ethnic voting bloc that is likely to double in size within a generation, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis based on U.S. Census Bureau data, Election Day exit polls and a new nationwide survey of Hispanic immigrants.

The nation’s 53 million Hispanics comprise 17% of the total U.S. population but just 10% of all voters this year, according to the national exit poll. {snip}

However, their share of the electorate will rise quickly for several reasons. The most important is that Hispanics are by far the nation’s youngest ethnic group. Their median age is 27 years—and just 18 years among native-born Hispanics—compared with 42 years for that of white non-Hispanics. In the coming decades, their share of the age-eligible electorate will rise markedly through generational replacement alone.

According to Pew Hispanic Center projections, Hispanics will account for 40% of the growth in the eligible electorate in the U.S. between now and 2030, at which time 40 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, up from 23.7 million now.2

Moreover, if Hispanics’ relatively low voter participation rates and naturalization rates were to increase to the levels of other groups, the number of votes that Hispanics actually cast in future elections could double within two decades.

If the national exit poll’s estimate proves correct that 10% of all voters this year were Hispanic, it would mean that as many as 12.5 million Hispanics cast ballots. But perhaps a more illuminating way to analyze the distinctive characteristics of the Hispanic electorate—current and future—is to parse the more than 40 million Hispanics in the United States who did not vote or were not eligible to vote in 2012. That universe can be broken down as follows:

  • 11.2 million are adults who were eligible to vote but chose not to. The estimated 44% to 53% turnout rate of eligible Hispanic voters in 2012 is in the same range as the 50% who turned out in 2008. But it still likely lags well below the turnout rate of whites and blacks this year.3
  • 5.4 million are adult legal permanent residents (LPRs) who could not vote because they have not yet become naturalized U.S. citizens. The naturalization rate among legal immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean trails that of other legal immigrants by a sizable margin—49% versus 72%, according to a Pew Hispanic analysis of the 2011 March Current Population Survey (CPS). The new Pew Hispanic survey finds that a major reason Hispanic immigrants naturalize is to gain civil and legal rights, including the right to vote. The flexing of electoral muscle by Hispanic voters this year conceivably could encourage more legal immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
  • 7.1 million are adult unauthorized immigrants and would become eligible to vote only if Congress were to pass a law creating a pathway to citizenship for them. Judging by the immediate post-election comments of leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the long-dormant prospects for passage of such legislation appear to have been revived by Latinos’ strong showing at the polls.
  • 17.6 million are under the age of 18 and thus too young to vote—for now. That vast majority (93%) of Latino youths are U.S-born citizens and thus will automatically become eligible to vote once they turn 18. Today, some 800,000 Latinos turn 18 each year; by 2030, this number could grow to 1 million per year, adding a potential electorate of more than 16 million new Latino voters to the rolls by 2030.

Thus, generational replacement alone will push the age- and citizen-eligible Latino electorate to about 40 million within two decades. If the turnout rate of this electorate over time converges with that of whites and blacks in recent elections (66% and 65%, respectively, in 2008), that would mean twice as many Latino voters could be casting ballots in 2032 as did in 2012.

This turnout could rise even more if naturalization rates among the 5.4 million adult Hispanic legal permanent residents were to increase over time—and/or if Congress were to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that creates a pathway to citizenship for the more than 7 million unauthorized Hispanic immigrants already living in the U.S.

The Pew Hispanic Center survey finds that more than nine-in-ten (93%) Hispanic immigrants who have not yet naturalized say they would if they could. Of those who haven’t, many cite administrative costs and barriers, a lack of English proficiency and a lack of initiative. For example, according to the survey, only 30% of Hispanic immigrants who are LPRs say they speak English “pretty well” or “very well.”

In addition to all these factors, there is the as-yet-unknowable size and impact of future immigration. About 24 million Hispanic immigrants have come to U.S. in the past four decades—in absolute numbers, the largest concentrated wave of arrivals among any ethnic or racial group in U.S. history. Some 45% arrived in the U.S. legally, and 55% arrived illegally.4

Assuming Hispanic immigration continues into the future—even at the significantly reduced levels of recent years—the Hispanic electorate will expand beyond the numbers dictated by the growth among Hispanics already living in the U.S. And because immigrants tend to have more children than the native born, the demographic ripple effect of future immigration on the makeup of the electorate will be felt for generations.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: The full report is available at the original article link below.]

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