Report highlights potential influence of Latino vote

Democracy NC released a new report today about the latent electoral power of Latino voters.

The report, Snapshot of Latino Voters in North Carolina, estimates that there are 100,000 eligible but unregistered Latino voters in North Carolina. In a state carried by Barack Obama in 2008 by only 14,000 votes, the implications are obvious: The Hispanic vote could swing the election.

The opportunity might be particularly pronounced in Forsyth County, which has a higher number of Hispanic residents than neighboring Guilford, but fewer registered Latino voters. Of course, it’s impossible to know whether the lower registration rate in Forsyth County reflects the number of Latino residents who are undocumented and ineligible to vote.  

Latinos would seem to be a natural constituency for Obama’s reelection efforts in North Carolina. The report cites polling finding that Latinos favor a more activist government, access to healthcare guaranteed by the government, and candidates that take supportive rather than hostile stances on immigration. 

The report says that Latinos have growing, if unrealized electoral clout in North Carolina. The Latino, or Hispanic population doubled to more than 830,000 from 2000 to 2010. And as of May 8, 2012, the report found “there were 91,600 self-identified Latino registered voters, representing a 35% increase over 2008.” 

Turnout among all demographic groups, but particularly Latinos is the wild card. The year 2008 set a record for voter turnout, with 72 percent of registered blacks and 69 percent of whites voting, while only 60 percent of Latinos voted. 

Not in the report: There’s some evidence that the Obama campaign is making an effort to reach Latinos in North Carolina. The campaign recently opened an office in Sanford, the seat of Lee County, where Latinos comprise more than 14 percent of the population. 

But the Democracy NC report is more concerned with the potential for Latinos to develop a political voice to advance their interests than activating them as a voting bloc to help one or the other presidential contenders. The report recommends 

Connect with Latino voters through community-based organizations. Too often, efforts to engage Hispanic voters wax and wane with the election season. Engaging community-based organizations in year-round voter registering and ongoing civic education is the most important way to build on existing relationships within the community and ensure that voting becomes an important habit and regular activity.

Another recommendation: 

Focus on registration and mobilization. The potential power promised by Latino population growth is not currently reflected at the polls, in part because Latinos register and vote at lower rates than other voters. Although low rates of citizenship, socioeconomic status, and age can account for some of this gap, experts suggest that increasing voter registration and GOTV efforts are the most important ways to close it.

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