The Hispanic vote is a sleeping political giant. It might never wake up.

June 4, 2013

Everyone knows the big takeaway of the 2012 election: Republicans can't win Hispanic voters.

Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of Hispanic voters in the 2012 election and the rapid growth of Latinos over the last decade suggest that Republicans problems could well drastically limit their ability to win swing states in 2016, 2020 and beyond.

Unless Hispanic voters don't vote. And, the untold story of the 2012 election is that Hispanics took a step back when it came to their influence in presidential politics.  That reality is illuminated by a Pew study released on Monday that breaks down the recently released Census numbers related to the 2012 election.

Three charts tell the story. The first is a comparison of the increase in the raw number of votes cast by Hispanics over the last few presidential elections. While 1.4 million more Hispanics voted in 2012 than did in 2008, it was the smallest increase since 1996.

The second chart compares Hispanic turnout rates to other racial groups -- and reveals it badly lags both white and black eligible voters.

The 48 percent turnout rate for eligible Hispanic voters was down from 2008 when 50 percent of those eligible voted. This third chart shows that 900,000 more Hispanic eligible voters did not vote than did -- a major increase from 2008 and a larger gap than even in 1988 when 3.7 million eligible Hispanic voters voted while 4 million did not.

What the trio of charts above suggests is that while the rapid growth of the Hispanic community is, without question, the demographic story of the last 10 years and the next 10 years, it's less clear that Latinos are showing any signs of realizing the political influence that goes along with that population increase. Need one stat to prove that point? Hispanics comprised 17.2 percent of the nation's population but were just 8.4 percent of all voters in 2012.

Could things change? Of course. The Hispanic population remains incredibly young and as the younger generations of Latinos come of age, it's possible their attitudes toward voting -- as in, doing it -- will change. The ongoing immigration debate in Washington could also spur an increased sense of the need to have their voices heard.  And, the nomination of the first Hispanic presidential candidate -- a real possibility in 2016 -- might be the most sure-fire way to awaken this still-largely dormant electoral group.

For the moment, however, the Hispanic vote is like a raw prospect in the NBA Draft. The potential is quite clearly there but the record of accomplishment doesn't come close to matching that potential.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | June 4, 2013