The Coming Wave of Young Latino Voters

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A wave of young Hispanic voters is about to hit the polls, leaders of the community said today.

Of Latinos under age 18 living in the United States, 93 percent are citizens and a half-million of those will reach the legal voting age each year for the next 20 years, said officials of the National Council of La Raza, a leading civil-rights advocacy group for Latinos. That will further enhance the political clout of what is already the largest minority community in the country -- and, NCLR leaders said, produce a backlash against politicians who engage in rhetoric that many Hispanics have come to feel is aimed at them.


"Demonizing immigrants is a losing strategy," said NCLR chief lobbyist Clarissa Martinez De Castro.

At a roundtable with other Hispanic leaders today, Martinez De Castro said that 42 percent of Hispanics are citizens of voting age, while another third are citizens who have not yet turned 18. The median age of Hispanics in the U.S. is 27, more than a decade younger than that of non-Hispanics.

While Latinos are now dispersing across the nation, 85 percent of Hispanic voters in 2008 were found in 10 states, including the swing states of Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Others at the press conference said that Hispanic voters are often misrepresented in polls. Exit pollsters work in English and tend to avoid heavily Hispanic precincts, meaning that the Hispanics they do survey don't always reflect the views of the broader community, said Stanford professor Gary Segura, who polls Hispanics. He disputed exit polls that showed immigration hard-liner Sharron Angle, a Republican, winning 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in her unsuccessful 2008 race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Segura said the number was more likely closer to  8 percent.

University of Washington professor Matt Barreto, Segura's polling partner, pointed out that none of the 60 polls of the Reid-Angle conducted interviews in Spanish. While most polls showed the race neck-and-neck, Barreto said that his own polling accurately predicted Reid's 5-percentage-point win.

Several panel members noted that while Hispanics are not enamored with the Democratic Party, Republicans have continued to alienate them. "Latinos continue to say they're not being communicated with by both parties," said Martinez De Castro. "Democrats do a better job, but it's still not good. Voting for the lesser of the two evils starts to wear thin after a while."

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Cameron Joseph is a staff reporter (politics) for National Journal.

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