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Democratic Party workers hand out signs at a celebration marking Mexican Independence Day in Denver, Colorado.
It’s long been known that the Latino voting demographic could make or break this election cycle. But their role could be intensified due to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center, which shows that Latino voter eligibility has risen 22 percent since 2008.
As it stands now, nearly 24 million Latino voters could cast ballots in the 2012 elections.
"This is driven by the demographic of the Latino community and a lot of this growth is up to 24 million eligible Latino voters compared with 19.5 million in 2008, has really been driven by young people," said Mark Hugo Lopez associate director, Pew Hispanic Center. "Young people who have turned 18 for example, but also by adult hispanics who were on the verge of naturalizing and have naturalized, so these numbers really reflect growth in those two populations."
This seems to be astoundingly good news for Barack Obama and Democrats, as an impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking poll found the President would be the choice for 73 percent of national Latino voters, with only 21 percent choosing Romney. In the battleground states Obama still enjoys a majority with 61 percent.
"It'll be interesting to see how Latinos react to the issues that are at play," said Republican political strategist Luis Alvarez. "25 percent or so of young voters are having difficulty entering the workplace, so the economy somehow supersedes the previous issues or tactics that have been used to get Latinos to come out and vote with a punitive vote, whether because they're voting against a certain law that is being passed, like 1070 or 187, or because they don't like the candidate or what they represent."
Some analysts are quick to point out that even though these numbers are staggering, they may not make as big a difference this year as predicted. That’s because the two states with the highest Latino populations, California and Texas, are not actually in play for the presidential race.
Also, the Latino vote has traditionally been underrepresented in comparison to that of whites and blacks. 2008 marked a 50 percent turnout among Latinos, the highest ever seen, but that number trails the 65 and 66 percent of African-Americans and whites who turned out, respectively.
"There are more African Americans who are eligible to vote by about a million to a million and-a-half than Latinos who are eligible to vote, yet in the general US population, the hispanic population is a larger population," said Lopez. "But the reason why many Hispanics aren't eligible to vote is they're under 18, so they're young, or they're an adult who doesn't hold U.S. citizenship…The hispanic electorate is a more youthful electorate."
So what are the campaigns doing to maximize the effect of the Latino vote? Why aren’t the numbers matching those of African-Americans and whites? Will that all change this year?
Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director, Pew Hispanic Center; lead author of the report
Luis Alvarado, Republican political strategist specializing in engaging the Latino electorate
Artie Blanco, formerly with the Democratic National Committee, where she served as the Western States Political Director for the 2008 campaign cycle: Recently the Nevada state director for Mi Familia Vota- a national non-profit organization focused on Latino civic participation in the Latino Community; now with the AFL-CIO (Nevada state director)