A report released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center on the Latino electorate in 2010 led to very different headlines as news outlets reported the results, and for good reason.
"Latinos voted in record numbers in 2010 elections," read the headline in USA Today. The headline in the Washington Post, "Latino and Asian voters mostly sat out 2010 election, report says," indicated a different story altogether.
But both interpretations are correct. According to the report, more than 6.6 million Latinos voted in last year's election, setting a record for a midterm election. Latino voters also made up a larger share of the electorate than in any previous midterm election. They represented 6.9 percent of all voters, up from 5.8 percent in 2006.
All that said, Latinos showed poorly at the polls when considering their sheer numbers - more than 50 million of them in the U.S., per the 2010 Census. From a summary of the Pew voter report:
However, even though more Latinos than ever are participating in the nation's elections, their representation among the electorate remains below their representation in the general population. In 2010, 16.3% of the nation's population was Latino, but only 10.1% of eligible voters and fewer than 7% of voters were Latino.
This gap is driven by two demographic factors—youth and non-citizenship. More than one third of Latinos (34.9%) are younger than the voting age of 18. And an additional 22.4% are of voting age, but are not U.S. citizens. As a result, the share of the Latino population eligible to vote is smaller than it is among any other group. Just 42.7% of the nation's Latino population is eligible to vote, while more than three-in-four (77.7%) of whites, two-thirds of blacks (67.2%) and more than half of Asians (52.8%) are eligible to vote.
Yet, even among eligible voters, Latino participation rates lag those of other groups. In 2010, 31.2% of Latino eligible voters say they voted, while nearly half (48.6%) of white eligible voters and 44.0% of black eligible voters said the same.
Part of the problem involves relatively low turnout among eligible Latino voters who are under 30. According to the report, only 17.6 percent of these younger voters turned out to the polls.
Asian Americans, who in California surpassed Latinos in population growth over the past decade, turned out in similarly small numbers. The voter turnout rate for eligible Asian American voters was slightly lower than that of Latinos in 2010, although more of the total Asian American population is voting eligible.
In recent years, national Latino advocacy groups have pushed a massive voter registration campaign, which has had some success. Asian American immigrant advocates recently launched a similar initiative.