Why Did 15 Million Latinos Sit Out 2010 Elections?

Here's a pail-of-cold-water dose of reality. Almost 15 million Latinos sat out the 2010 midterm election.

I have a problem with the term “sat out,” and I'll get to that, but first, the staggering number.

This is from a Pew Hispanic Center report, titled “The Latino Electorate in 2010: More Voters, More Non-Voters,” published last week:

 ... (E)ven 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 percent of the nation's population was Latino, but only 10.1 percent of eligible voters and fewer than 7 percent of voters were Latino.

All those percentages translate to almost 15 million potential voters who didn't go to the polls. 

Many people, and I include myself, talk about the increase in Latino political clout that is a natural byproduct of the increase in population that was revealed in the 2010 Census. We know that more than half of the general population growth in the United States was due to Latinos; and we know that the vast majority of that growth was attributed to birthrate, not immigration. It follows that it bodes well for Latino political prospects, and national leaders of both major political parties have taken notice: the Democrats counting un-hatched eggs and the Republicans plotting to build their own coop.

But these new numbers can take a little of the swagger out of your step. When there's more than 20 million eligible Latino voters and less than 7 million go to the polls, the political momentum suddenly hits a steep climb.

So the idea that almost 15 million Latinos “sat out” an election is not so accurate. Sitting-out implies an intention. It means that they purposely didn't vote to send a message.

An explanation might be that that many Latinos weren't motivated to vote; that maybe they weren't compelled because they didn't feel part of the process. Another reason may be old-fashioned apathy — it happens. And another, more palpable reason may be youth. More than 31 percent of Latino eligible voters are between the ages of 18 and 29. A little more than 17 percent of those voters went to the polls in the midterms.

In all ethnic, racial, gender and cultural groups the rate of voter participation increases above the age of 29. So you can check off youth as a partial reason for the lag in voter participation. But you can't put all the blame there.

Some people blame the political parties and the politicians for using fear and wedge issues to bolster a voting base, like immigration. But those tactics only serve to alienate many Latinos. Others think that Latinos feel excluded by the political discourse. But the problem with those ideas is that they place the blame on someone else.

While there may be some merit to thinking that the political process should be more inclusive of Latinos, maybe if more Latinos voted they'd be included.

There's no quick answer; we've been talking about this for decades. We've gotten to a point now where talk is not enough.

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