Latino Voters Expected to Hold Big Sway in 2012

But experts say, don't generalize too much

By Gene Cubbison
|  Friday, Mar 16, 2012  |  Updated 5:32 PM PDT
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Latino Voters Expected to Hold Big Sway

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Political scientists say this year's Presidential election cycle could see a greater influence of Latino voters than past elections.
               
Their registration rate is still below those of other ethnic groups, but it's rapidly increasing.

Latino voters were a significant part of George W. Bush's success at the polls.
               
They're expected to be even more helpful to President Obama's re-election chances, despite his administration's record number of deportations.
               
But experts say, don't generalize too much about them.
               
Latinos registered have signed up to vote in big numbers since 2008.
               
And while trailing other ethnic blocs in the percentage of voters among their own 'eligible electorate' their population growth has far outstripped the rest.
               
Pollsters say 22 million will be eligible to vote in November, and think up to 12 million will cast ballots.
               
Bottom line, even according to those who do public opinion surveys for GOP candidates and causes: Republicans need to get around 40 percent of that vote to win in November. 

"Jeb Bush said that he thinks Latinos will be the swing votes in at least 15 states," says Richard Ybarra, a San Diego public relations/policies and communications consultant.  "So it's a growing voice, and it's finding itself."

Issues of deportation and immigration reform are high on the list of concerns among the politically active Latino community, but others come to the forefront as well.

"Surveys have shown that Latinos tend to feel that they have had a harsher experience in the recession than any other group in the United States," says Isidro Ortiz, professor of Chicana & Chicano Studies at San Diego State University.

"So if that is correct, then an appeal to the question of jobs and education certainly would make a difference."

Observers say the political priorities and loyalties of Latino voters can vary from state to state, age-group to age-group, and their family's country of origin before coming here.
               
And, their turnout may be higher in November than in the primary cycle, with only the GOP Presidential nomination driving the dynamic.
               
Either way, "Both parties have a lot of work cut out for them," Ybarra says.  "There's nobody to take for granted.  You've got to work, and you've got to get people's support behind you."

One startling figure that's widely quoted is that in this election cycle, 50,000 Latino youths will turn 18 and become eligible to vote in the November.
               
Party activists are making a big push to sign them up -- and fire them up to cast ballots.

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