A record 11.2 million Latino voters cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election, but Latinos showed up at the polls at a rate well below non-Hispanic whites and black voters, according to a Census report published Wednesday.
The study found that 1.4 million more Latinos voted in 2012 than in 2008, while 2 million fewer whites showed up to vote. A whopping seven in 10 Latino voters backed President Obama, according to exit polls, helping him fortify his winning coalition.
Republicans and Democrats working on an immigration reform bill in Congress frequently cite Obama's strong backing from Latino voters last year as the impetus for their efforts.
But turnout rates show that Latinos still aren't voting at a rate that allows the rapidly growing group to fully realize its potential at the polls. Only 48 percent of eligible Latino voters cast ballots last year. Whites had a 64.1 percent turnout rate, while 66. 2 percent of eligible black voters showed up, the first time ever that black turnout surpassed white turnout.
Political strategists worried last year that a sagging economy and an onerous deportation policy would cause Latino turnout to sag, which they believed would hurt Obama's chances of winning reelection.
The Latino turnout rate did decline by nearly two percentage points between 2008 and 2012. But Latinos were able to have their largest showing on record thanks to sheer population growth. In fact, between the last two presidential elections, the number of Latinos who were eligible to vote but chose not to increased by even more (2.3 million) than those who did vote, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
Young people also voted at a much lower rate than they did in 2008. The participation rate for voters between the ages of 18 to 24 dropped from 48.5 percent to 41.2 percent.
U.S.-born Latinos are expected to help drive population growth over the next generation. Latinos currently comprise 24 percent of the under 18 population and around 800,000 Latinos turn 18 every year, all of whom are eligible to vote.
As the numbers show, Latinos have achieved unprecedented influence in U.S. elections. But the results of the last election make you wonder if it could be even larger.