More Latinos are eligible to vote than ever before, but the group could remain a sleeping giant in the November election because of lower turnout rates and a dip in the number of registered voters, a new analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center shows.
A record 23.7 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, 22 percent more than in 2008, when 19.5 million were eligible, according to the report.
The report painted a picture of increasing Latino political clout. In 2008, 9.7 million Latinos cast a vote, up from 7.6 million in 2004. In 2008, they made up 7.4 percent of all voters, up from 6 percent in 2004.
As their numbers have grown, their share of the electorate has also increased. Today, Latinos make up 11 percent of the nation's eligible voters, up from 9.5 percent in 2008 and 8.2 percent in 2004.
There is no way to know whether a larger share of Latinos are registering in anticipation of the 2012 election. National data on 2012 Latino voter registration levels is not yet available.
But the Pew report cited four states which track registration by ethnicity: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, the report said, Latino registration levels already have exceeded those of 2008. Because of the rapid growth in their Hispanic populations in recent years, those states may not be representative of the nation, the report pointed out.
Despite that rise, the report indicated that the American political arena may not yet be feeling the full influence of the Latino vote. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of those who said they were registered to vote fell by about 600,000, the data showed.
Historically, Latino turnout has lagged that of other groups. In 2008, 50 percent of Latinos who could have voted did, compared with 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites, according to the report.
Although Latinos are the nation's largest minority group (they currently represent 16.7 percent of the population), more than a million more blacks are eligible than Hispanics, according to the report. Hispanics are younger and less likely to hold citizenship than other groups. Fifty-five percent of all Hispanics are not eligible to vote because they are under 18 or are adults who are not U.S. citizens, according to the report.