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Understanding Why Latino Voters Are Key in Virginia

Latinos supporting Obama

SOURCE: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

Jackie Reyes holds a sign that says "Latinos Con Obama," meaning "Latinos with Obama" in Spanish, and shouts to motorists in support of then-presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Monday, February 11, 2008.

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In Virginia and at the national level, the Latino community is shifting the political landscape and holding increasing political influence on the campaign trail. Since 2000 Virginia has seen a 92 percent increase in its Latino population, growing from 4.7 percent to 8.2 percent. And in a key swing state in the upcoming election, Latinos in Virginia are flexing their political muscle. Since 2000 Latino voter participation in the state has gone up between 1 percent and 3 percent every election cycle.

Let’s take a look at the reasons behind the impact of the Latino population in Virginia:

  1. Virginia’s growing Latino community is driving the state’s demographic shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 8.2 percent of Virginia residents are of Hispanic or Latino descent, and in the past decade alone, the state’s Latino population grew by 300,000.
  2. Latino voters could hold the key to the 2012 election. In 2008 Virginia voters gave President Barack Obama a 234,527-vote margin of victory, and Latinos in the state voted overwhelmingly in support of President Obama. Today, the state has approximately 183,000 eligible Latino voters. The number of eligible Latino voters in Virginia grew drastically from 2000 to 2010 by 76 percent, outpacing all other groups in the electorate.
  3. Latino eligible voters in Virginia are younger than other voters in Virginia. Some 34 percent of Virginia’s Latinos are between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 25 percent of black eligible voters, 22 percent of Asian eligible voters, and 20 percent of white eligible voters in the state. This is a young and vibrant demographic group who will impact elections for years to come.    
  4. For Virginia Latino voters, immigration and the economy are top issues in the upcoming election. According to a Latino Decisions poll last month, approximately 48 percent of Virginia Latinos said immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community, and 47 percent said the same about the economy, jobs, and unemployment.
  5. Among Latino eligible voters in Virginia, 33 percent are naturalized U.S. citizens. That’s 8 percent higher than the national average of Latino voters. This is important because a significant percentage of Latino eligible voters in Virginia have a strong connection to the immigrant experience and are more likely to live in  families of “mixed status” that may be composed of citizens, legal permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants.   
  6. In Virginia immigration is not just a political issue—it’s a personal issue. The majority of Latinos in Virginia are enthusiastic about the election because of President Obama’s stance on immigration, which for many goes beyond politics. Fully 66 percent of Virginia Latino voters say they know someone who is undocumented and 54 percent say they know a DREAMer—an undocumented youth.
  7. Immigrants play a key role in Virginia’s economy. While immigrants comprise 11 percent of Virginia’s population, they account for 17 percent of all entrepreneurial activity in the state. Additionally, the labor force participation rate for immigrants is 74.4 percent, compared to 65.5 percent of the state’s native population.
  8. Virginia could see significant economic gains if a common-sense immigration process were implemented. If all of Virginia’s immigrants without papers were legalized, total wages would increase by $1.2 billion, tax revenue would grow by $371 million, and 27,000 jobs would be added to the Virginia economy.
  9. Economically, Virginia has a lot to gain through the DREAM Act. Approximately 38,000 people in Virginia are eligible for the DREAM Act, legislation that proposes to create a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States as children and aspire to be citizens but lack documentation. If the DREAM Act passed, by 2030 Virginia would realize a $5.2 billion economic impact through job creation and total revenue.

Vanessa Cárdenas is Director of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress. Sophia Kerby is a Special Assistant with Progress 2050.

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