A record 25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, making up, for the first time, 11% of all eligible voters nationwide. But despite a growing national presence, in many states with close Senate and gubernatorial races this year, Latinos make up a smaller share of eligible voters, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center.1
Since 2010, the number of Hispanic eligible voters has increased by 3.9 million. Their share among eligible voters nationally is also on the rise, up from 10.1% in 2010 and 8.6% in 2006 (Lopez, 2011), reflecting the relatively faster growth of the Hispanic electorate compared with other groups.
Yet in the eight states with close Senate races,2 just 4.7% of eligible voters on average are Latinos. Among those states, Latinos make up less than 5% of eligible voters in six. Only in Colorado does the 14.2% Latino share among eligible voters exceed the 10.7% national average. Kansas is the only other state where the Latino share among eligible voters exceeds 5%.3 As a result, the impact of Latino voters in determining which party controls the U.S. Senate may not be as large as might be expected given their growing electoral and demographic presence nationwide. In other 2014 Senate races—none of which are competitive—Latinos make up more than 10% of eligible voters in just three: New Mexico, where Latinos make up 40.1% of eligible voters; Texas, where 27.4% of eligible voters are Latino; and New Jersey, where Latinos make up 12.8% of eligible voters.
Eligible voters are U.S. citizen adults. Not all eligible voters are registered to vote, or turn out to vote in an election. Nonetheless, the number of Hispanic eligible voters and their share among a state’s eligible voters provides insight into the potential impact of the Hispanic vote. So far that impact has been muted by the fact that Hispanic voter turnout rates in midterm elections and presidential elections have lagged other racial and ethnic groups (Krogstad, 2014). For example, in 2010, while 31.2% of Hispanic eligible voters voted, 48.6% of white and 44.0% of black eligible voters turned out on Election Day.
In the case of this year’s 14 competitive House races, the share of eligible voters that are Hispanic is, on average, 13.6%—slightly exceeding Hispanics’ 10.7% share nationwide.4
But this masks the large variability in the percentage of Hispanics across the competitive Congressional districts. For example, in six districts, fewer than 5% of eligible voters are Hispanic. At the other end of the spectrum, in Florida’s 26th Congressional district and California’s 26th Congressional district, Hispanics make up 62% and 31% of eligible voters, respectively. Fully 96% of Hispanic eligible voters, and 97% of all eligible voters, live in districts without a close Congressional race.
In the 36 states with gubernatorial races this year, nine have close races.5 Just as with competitive U.S. Senate races, Hispanics on average account for a smaller share of eligible voters in these races than they do nationally. Overall, 7.9% of eligible voters in these states are Hispanic, compared with a 10.7% share nationally. Among these states, three have Hispanic eligible voter shares above 10% (Florida with 17.1%, Colorado with 14.2% and Connecticut with 10.3%) and three have voter shares below 5% (Wisconsin 3.2%, Michigan 2.9% and Maine 1.0%).
Lagging Latino Voter Participation in Midterm Elections
In each midterm election since 1974, the number of Latino voters reached a new record high, largely reflecting the community’s fast population growth.6 However, the share of those Latinos who actually vote on Election Day—the voter turnout rate—has lagged significantly behind other racial and ethnic groups.
During the 2010 midterm election, a record 6.6 million Hispanics voted, representing a turnout rate of 31.2%. But more than twice as many Hispanics—14.7 million—could have voted but did not (Lopez, 2011). By comparison, voter turnout rates were higher among blacks (44%) and whites (48.6%).
Low voter participation rates among Hispanics are due to many factors. First, the relative youth of the Hispanic population may impact overall Hispanic voter turnout rates. Young people turn out at rates lower than that of older eligible voters. This is true among Hispanics (Lopez, 2011; Lopez and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2013) just as it is among other racial and ethnic groups (CIRCLE, 2013).
For Hispanics, however, young people are a larger share of eligible voters than they are among other groups. In 2014, 33% of Hispanic eligible voters are ages 18 to 29. By comparison, among white eligible voters, 18% are in that age group. And, among blacks, that share is 25%. Among Asians, 21% are between ages 18 and 29.
Voting Age Population: Persons ages 18 and older.
Voting Eligible Population: Persons ages 18 and older who are U.S. citizens.
Registered Voter Population: Persons who say they are registered to vote.
Voter Population or Voter Turnout: Persons who say they voted.
Voter Turnout Rate: Share of the voting eligible population who say they voted.
Hispanic youth will also be the main driver of growth in the number of Hispanic eligible voters nationally in the coming decades. Currently, some 800,000 U.S. born Hispanics turn 18 each year, with one million or more expected to reach adulthood annually by 2024. And by 2030, the number of Hispanic eligible voters is projected to top more than 40 million (Taylor, Gonzalez-Barrera, Passel and Lopez, 2012).
Second, the political competitiveness of states where Latino voters live also is important in determining Latino voter turnout rates. For example, California and Texas contain nearly half (46.4%) of all Latino eligible voters, but neither has been a battleground state in recent presidential elections. As a result, nearly half of Latino voters do not get the level of attention from campaigns that Latino voters who live in battleground states receive. And this year, neither state has a close Senate race.
Latino Public Opinion and 2014 State Ballot Initiatives
Voters in several states this year are facing state ballot initiatives on issues such as gun control, marijuana legalization, abortion and the minimum wage. On some of these issues, national Latino public opinion differs from that of the general U.S. public, but on others, Latinos’ views are no different.
On the issue of gun control, Hispanic registered voters are more likely to support gun control measures than all U.S. registered voters. About six-in-ten Hispanic registered voters (62%) say controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right of Americans to own guns, while 36% say the opposite. By comparison, 45% of all U.S. registered voters favor controlling gun ownership while a 53% majority favors protecting gun rights. Hispanics, overall, are less likely to be gun owners than the general U.S. public—20% versus 34% (Morin, 2014). This year, voters in two states—Alabama and Washington—are considering questions on gun ownership.7 Both are states where Latinos are a relatively small share of eligible voters—1.6% and 6.1% respectively.
A measure to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is on the ballot in Florida, a state with the fifth-highest share (17.1%) of Hispanic eligible voters. Nationally, Hispanic registered voters are split on the question of marijuana legalization—about half (49%) say that marijuana should be made legal while a similar 48% share say it should not be made legal. By comparison, among U.S. registered voters, the balance tilts toward legalizing over not legalizing by a margin of 53% to 44% (Pew Research Center, 2014d).
The share of Hispanic registered voters (and all U.S. registered voters) that approves of some legalization rises when both medicinal and recreational use are considered. For example, 47% of Hispanic registered voters approve of legalization for only medicinal use and 34% approve of legalization for recreational use. Combined, 81% approve of some form of legalization.
Overall, Hispanics are less likely to say they have ever used marijuana than other Americans. One-third (33%) of Hispanics say this compared with 50% of whites and 49% of blacks (Pew Research Center, 2014b).
Measures that could restrict access to abortion services and certain birth control methods are on the ballot in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee. In Colorado, Hispanics make up 14.2% of eligible voters, compared with just 2% in Tennessee and 1.8% in North Dakota. On abortion, Hispanic registered voters nationally are split on the issue—48% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 44% say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Among all registered voters, the balance is tilted the other way as a larger share thinks abortion should be legal than illegal (52% vs. 42%).8
Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—states where Hispanics make up a small share of eligible voters—will decide whether to raise the minimum wage in their states. Hispanics, and all Americans, generally support an increase in the federal minimum wage, with 84% of Hispanics in favor of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, compared with 73% of all Americans.
At 54.1 million, Latinos are the nation’s largest minority group and growing fast (Brown, 2014). Latinos have also strongly supported Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections, giving President Barack Obama 71% of their vote in 2012 compared with 27% to Republican Mitt Romney (Lopez and Taylor, 2012). Latino registered voters also tend to affiliate with the Democratic Party. In 2012, 70% of Latino registered voters said they identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party (Lopez and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2012).
This report explores electoral participation trends among Hispanics in recent midterm election cycles. It also provides a snapshot of the geography and demography of the Hispanic vote in 2014, with a special focus on states and Congressional districts with competitive races. Accompanying this report are state profiles of Hispanic eligible voters in 42 states and the District of Columbia, each based on data from the 2012 American Community Survey. Also accompanying this report are interactive maps and tables showing key characteristics of Latino voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in each of the nation’s 435 Congressional districts.
Among the report’s other findings:
Latino eligible voters in the Congressional districts:
- The 66 Congressional districts with at least 100,000 Latino eligible voters contain about half of all Latino eligible voters nationwide. In 49 of these districts, incumbents are Democrats.
- The 157 Congressional districts with at least 50,000 Latino eligible voters contain about three-quarters of all Latino eligible voters nationwide. In 96 of these districts, incumbents are Democrats.
- The districts with the five highest Hispanic eligible voter shares are California’s 40th (77.6%), Texas’s 34th (76.6%), Texas’s 16th (73.5%), Texas’s 15th (71.4%) and Texas’s 28th (66.6%).
- Texas’s 16th district is the largest Congressional district by Latino eligible voter population, with 313,000 Latino eligible voters.
Latino eligible voters in the states:
- More than two-thirds of Hispanic eligible voters live in just six states—California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona and Illinois.
- At 40.1%, New Mexico has the highest Latino eligible voter share, followed by Texas (27.4%), California (26.9%), Arizona (20.3%) and Florida (17.1%).
- Since 2006, the number of Hispanic eligible voters has grown fastest in South Carolina (up 126.2%), Tennessee (up 113.7%) and Alabama (up 110.5%).
The Demographics of Latino Eligible Voters
- Three-quarters (74%) of Latino eligible voters are U.S. born and 26% are immigrants who hold U.S. citizenship.
- Some 17% of Hispanic eligible voters hold a bachelor’s degree or more. By comparison, 33% of white, 20% of black and 48% of Asian eligible voters hold a bachelor’s degree or more.
- Among Hispanic eligible voters, 60% are of Mexican origin, 13% Puerto Rican origin, 5% Cuban origin, 4% Dominican origin and 3% are of Salvadoran origin.
About This Report
This report examines national Latino voter participation trends in U.S. midterm elections. It also examines the geographic distribution of Latino voters across the nation’s 435 congressional districts and across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a focus on places with close Congressional, Senate and gubernatorial elections this year. The report also examines national Latino attitudes about gun control, marijuana use, the minimum wage and abortion. All four issues are part of ballot initiatives in many states this year.
Accompanying this report are state profiles of Latino eligible voters in 42 states and the District of Columbia.9Also accompanying this report is an interactive map and sortable table showing key characteristics of Latino voters in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as an interactive map and sortable table showing the number of Latino eligible voters in all 435 Congressional Districts of the current 113th Congress.
The data for this report are from four main sources. The first is the November Voting and Registration Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly survey of about 55,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS is representative of the non-institutionalized population of the U.S. It does not include data on the voting behavior of enlisted military personnel and those who are institutionalized. The November Voting and Registration Supplement of the CPS is one of the richest sources of information available about the characteristics of voters. It is conducted after Election Day and relies on survey respondent self-reports of voting and voter registration. In addition to the November Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey, this report also uses the August 2014 Current Population Survey to estimate current characteristics of the nation’s Latino eligible voters.
The second data source is the 2012 American Community Survey.10 The 2012 ACS provides detailed geographic, demographic and economic characteristics for Latino and non-Latino eligible voters and is the main source for the state-level analysis of this report and the accompanying state profiles of Latino eligible voters
Latino attitudes on social issues data are from the following Pew Research Center surveys: (1) the January-March 2014 Political Polarization and Typology Survey of 10,013 adults, including 902 Latino adults; (2) the January 2014 Political Survey of 1,504 adults, including 162 Latino adults; and (3) the February 2014 Political Survey of 1,821 adults, including 216 Latino adults. The surveys were conducted in English and Spanish on both landline and cellular telephones.
This report was written by Mark Hugo Lopez, Jens Manuel Krogstad, Eileen Patten and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. Analysis for the report was provided by Anna Brown, Gonzalez-Barrera, Lopez, and Patten. Brown and Patten wrote the accompanying state profiles. Claudia Deane and Michael Dimock provided editorial guidance and comments. Jeffrey Passel provided analysis on the Latino eligible voter population in each Congressional District. The interactive maps and sortable tables were developed by Russell Heimlich and Michael Piccorossi. Michael Keegan provided additional graphic support and editorial guidance. Patten and Brown number-checked the report and Gonzalez-Barrera number-checked the interactive maps and tables. Bruce Drake was the copy editor. Michael Suh provided web support.
A Note on Terminology
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.
References to other races and ethnicities are to the non-Hispanic components of those populations. “Asian” does not include Pacific Islanders.
“Eligible voters” refers to persons ages 18 and older who are U.S. citizens.
For findings based on state voter registration data, “registered voters” refers to tallies of registered voters reported by state election officials.
“Voters” are those who say they voted in the Voting and Registration Supplement of the CPS.
“Voter turnout rate” is the share of eligible voters who say they voted.
“Competitive” or “close” races for House, Senate and Gubernatorial seats were identified by the Pew Research Center using ratings as of October 15 from The Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics and CNN. For Senate races, FiveThirtyEight.com was also used. States or Congressional districts identified as a toss-up or competitive race by all available sources is identified as a close race in this report.