The 5 states where Latino growth could decide the election
Where should the campaigns focus their attention on wooing Latinos?
It’s become a staple of campaign discourse that mobilizing Latinos is going to be a key factor in deciding the outcome of the 2012 election. This assessment is based on the perception that Latinos are a growing constituency and lean strongly toward President Obama at the current time. Therefore, the more of these voters Obama can mobilize, the better his chances for reelection.
But not all states are the same in terms of Latino population, nor are all states experiencing the same levels of growth in this population.
The latter issue of growth looms large, because it is the growth in the Latino population that, at least potentially, can provide the Obama campaign with additional votes it did not have last time, to offset expected losses from white voters.
The most straightforward way to look at this issue is to estimate how much the composition of eligible voters — that is, those 18 and over who are citizens — has changed between 2008 and 2012 in these states. This is frequently proxied by looking at changes in overall population share as measured by sources like the decennial census. But such sources include non-citizens (particularly problematic when looking at Latinos) and children, who can’t vote, and typically do not cover the actual years in question, 2008-2012.
Our analysis avoids these problems by using data from the November 2008 and May 2012 Current Population Surveys, data sources which permit us to remove children and non-citizens from our counts. It is not perfect — there are some weighting differences between the two surveys and, of course, we cannot use data from November 2012 to get a full four years. But these data provide the latest and most direct estimate of changes in the Latino voting pool since 2008.
Of course, some of the states that have experienced large increases in the Latino share of eligible voters are considered generally uncompetitive between the two parties (California, New York, Hawaii) or only marginally competitive (New Mexico). We therefore focus on states that have both had a strong increase in their Hispanic share of eligible voters and look to be meaningfully competitive between the two parties this November. Here is our top five.
The first state on our list is Arizona. Arizona is tied with California as the state with the largest increase in Latino voter share, about 5 percentage points. But of course California is not in play while Arizona is generally viewed as the one state Obama might carry in this election that he did not carry in the last. This 5 point shift brings Arizona up to just under a quarter (24 percent) of eligible voters being Latino, giving Obama plenty of room to grow the Latino share of the electorate from the 16 percent level reported by the exit polls in 2008. Combined with increasing his share of the Latino vote in the state (he carried them by only 56-41 percent in 2008, in contrast to a recent Latino Decisions poll which gave him a 74-18 percent margin), this should give him a serious chance to carry the state.
The next two states are Colorado and Nevada, both of which have seen the Latino share of eligible voters increase by about 4 percent. In Colorado, generally considered the tighter of the two states for Obama, Latinos account for all the increase in the minority share of eligibles in the state.
So any increase in the minority vote share in 2012 is heavily dependent on the Obama campaign’s ability to mobilize this additional increment of Latino voters. Given that Obama currently leads Romney by 70-22 among Colorado’s Latino voters, according to the Latino Decisions poll, that potential increase could be a considerable boost to Obama’s chances in the state.
Nevada’s gain in the share of Latino eligibles was essentially the same as Colorado’s. But in Nevada, gains among other minorities—blacks, Asians and those of other race—were also strong. Indeed, between 2008 and 2012, the overall minority share of eligible voters increased by an astonishing 9 points, more than 2 points a year. Minorities are now almost 40 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters. But within that group, Latinos loom large, being the biggest component of the minority vote and currently favoring Obama over Romney by 69-20, according to Latino Decisions.
The fourth state on our list is Florida. Florida had roughly a 2 percentage point growth in the share of Latino eligible voters between 2008 and 2012, growth driven by increases among relatively liberal non-Cuban Hispanics in the state. Another 2 point increase was contributed by growth among African-American, Asian and “other” race eligibles, making for a total 4 point increase in the overall minority share of eligible voters. This is good news for Obama in what should be a very close state in 2012 (currently 46 Obama/45 Romney in Pollster.com’s average).
The final state on our list is North Carolina. Here the increase in Hispanic eligibles was less (1.3 percentage points) but contributes, as in Florida, to an overall minority share increase of around 4 points. Again, given how close North Carolina is projected to be (currently 45 Obama/46 Romney on Pollster), this growth is a significant potential boost for Obama.
Other states experiencing Latino growth like New Mexico and California are highly likely to go for President Obama anyway. But if you are looking for states where Latino growth could really make a difference to the outcome, keep your eyes on Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and North Carolina.
Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and editor of America’s New Swing Region: Changing Politics and Demographics in the Mountain West, recently released by Brookings Press. William Frey is a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
(Photo: Flickr, whiteafrican)