As the 2016 election year opens, new data shows that more Latinos will be eligible to vote than ever before. However, Hispanic political power may be sapped by the relatively young age of these potential voters and their geographic distribution.
That conclusion comes in a new report from the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends. It finds that Latino millennials will account for almost half — 44 percent — of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for this year's presidential election. That's not too surprising given that among the 35 million U.S.-born Latinos the median age is 19.
The other source of Hispanic eligible voters comes from adult immigrants who have legal status and have chosen to become U.S. citizens. Pew projects that some 1.2 million Hispanic immigrants will have naturalized between 2012 and 2016.
The number of Latino eligible voters in 2016 — that record 27.3 million — is 40 percent higher than 2008. But voter turnout could tell a different story. According to the report, nearly 50 percent of Hispanic eligible voters turned out in 2008, the year Barack Obama was first elected. But Latino turnout dropped to 48 percent in 2012 and even lower — 27 percent — in the 2014 midterm election.
The Pew researchers cite several reasons for the low turnout rates. The first is the young age of those voters. Younger people in general tend not to vote as reliably as older voters. And Latino millennials trail their counterparts in other racial or ethnic categories. In 2012, only 37.8 percent of Latino millennials voted. Meanwhile, "47.5 percent of white millennials and 55 percent of black millennials voted in 2012. Among Asian millennials, 37.3 percent of millennials voted," say the authors.
Another reason for lower turnout among Latino voters might be geographic. Fifty-two percent of Hispanic eligible voters are concentrated in three states: California, Texas, and New York. None of those states are heavily contested, so there's not likely to be aggressive voter outreach.
Finally, the authors repeat what many Latino political scientists have known for years. More than half — 52 percent — of Latinos in the U.S. are too young to vote or they are ineligible because they are not citizens. As the Pew report authors put it, "Latinos tend to 'punch below their weight' in elections."