On September 17, 1787—exactly 228 years ago today—the nation’s founders signed the Constitution of the United States. Each year on this date, Americans celebrate Constitution Day, also referred to as Citizenship Day. To mark the occasion this year, the White House Task Force on New Americans—which President Barack Obama established last year to improve the civic, economic, and linguistic integration of immigrants and refugees—is launching the Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Campaign. The campaign promotes the importance of U.S. citizenship and provides free citizenship preparation resources for those eligible to become citizens. The goals of the campaign are to invite permanent residents to learn more about citizenship, ensure that permanent residents and community organizations have access to trusted sources of information, and provide those working toward citizenship with access to service providers.
Becoming a citizen through naturalization allows an individual to exercise one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities bestowed upon Americans by the Constitution: the right to vote. In order to fully exercise their voting rights, citizens over age 18 must first register to vote. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began two days ago on September 15, a coalition of more than 100 organizations launched the Hispanic Heritage Month of Action, an on-the-ground and digital campaign to urge Latinos to register to vote.
In honor of these occasions, here are six important facts about Latinos and their voting power.
1. The number of Latinos is growing
By 2016, there will be an estimated 58.1 million Latinos in the United States. As of 2014—the most recent population estimates available—there were 55.4 million Latinos in the United States, making up 17.4 percent of the population. Between the last presidential election in 2012 and the next one in 2016, the Latino population will increase by 5 million people. Between 2014 and 2060, the Latino population is expected to increase 115 percent to some 119 million people; Latinos will be 29 percent of the U.S. population.
2. The Latino electorate is increasing
Latinos over the age of 18 will comprise 16 percent of the U.S. adult population in 2016. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2016 Latino over-18 population at nearly 39.8 million. A total of 800,000 Latinos turn 18 each year—one every 30 seconds or more than 66,000 individuals per month. Ninety-three percent of Latino children are U.S.-born citizens and will be eligible to vote when they reach age 18. As of 2014, one in four children in the United States—17.6 million total—were Latino. This contributes to the fact that people of color already make up nearly a majority of the under-18 population nationally. The share of the U.S. population under age 18 that is Latino is expected to increase from around 24 percent in 2014 to more than 33 percent in 2060.
3. The Latino share of eligible voters is growing
Latinos will make up 13 percent of all eligible voters in 2016, a 2 percent increase from 2012. And the numbers are much higher in some states. In Florida, for example, the share of eligible voters who are Latino will increase from 17.1 percent in 2012 to 20.2 percent in 2016. In Nevada, the 2012 to 2016 Latino eligible voter increase is 15.9 percent to 18.8 percent. Projections show that Latino eligible voters could reach 28.5 million nationwide in 2016.
4. Latinos are underrepresented on registered voter rolls
In 2012, there were 13.7 million Latinos registered to vote. However, given that 23.3 million Latinos were eligible to vote that year, 9.6 million Latinos—41 percent—were eligible to vote but did not register. And this does not include Latinos that could naturalize but have not. As of 2013, 8.8 million lawful permanent residents were eligible to become citizens that had not naturalized; at least 3.9 million of them were from Latin American countries, with more than 2.7 million from Mexico.
5. Latinos are showing up in greater numbers at the polls
More than 11.2 million Latinos voted in the 2012 presidential election. While impressive, that still means that 2.6 million Latinos who were registered did not vote. Moreover, 12.1 million—52 percent—of the 23.3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote did not do so. Latino voters made up 8.4 percent of the 2012 voting electorate. This share is 15 percent higher than 2008, an increase of 1.5 million voters. For 2016, estimates show that the Republican presidential nominee must garner the support of 47 percent to 52 percent of Latino voters in order to win the general election.
6. Immigration is the top issue for Latino voters
Polling clearly shows that immigration is the key issue for Latino voters, with wide support for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and implementation of the recent administrative actions. Immigration comes in significantly ahead of the next two top issues—the economy and education.
In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, analysts described the increasing power of the Latino vote. Expected and potential shifts could have dramatic electoral consequences: a growing Latino population turning 18 every year, many more lawful permanent residents naturalizing, an increase in eligible Latinos registering to vote, and additional Latino voters turning out to the polls. These numbers show that not only are Latinos already a growing segment of the electorate, but tremendous potential also exists for Latinos to gain much more political power in 2016 and beyond. Elected officials and candidates from both sides of the aisle would benefit from understanding this electoral and political power and the Latino community’s vision for what constitutes a more perfect union.
Lizet Ocampo is Associate Director of Immigration at the Center for American Progress.