When Reagan was first elected, only one percent of voters (and six percent of the population) were Hispanic. Just five years previously, jurisdictions with Hispanic voters had been added to the list of areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.
In 2008, after a rapid increase in participation, the Latino proportion of the electorate had increased almost tenfold (in part because of immigration) to 9% (compared to 15% of the population). Here's a comparison of 2004 and 2008:
The most striking feature of the map is the increase in the Latino electorate in the South and other areas outside the Southwest.
Ten Second Summary
The Latino electorate is growing around the country, not just in the Southwest. Again, we see that we are not all alike, and more demographically uniform communities are more uniform in voting behavior as well.
The Usual Suspects
In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ending the war with Mexico provided for Mexican citizens living in territory ceded to the United States to become US citizens and vote. Most did indeed become citizens, and various states wasted no time in denying them the right to vote.
In 2008, seven states had more than 10% of the exit poll respondents describe themselves as Latino. Among them, there was essentially no change between 2004 and 2008 in Texas and Florida, and a slight decrease in California. The rest of the Southwest showed dramatic increases: from 8% of the electorate in 2003 to 13% of the electorate in 2008 (+63%) in Colorado, 10% to 15% in Nevada (+50%), 32% to 41% in New Mexico (+28%), and 12% to 16% in Arizona (+33%). The states without much change had the same status in 2004 and 2008 - uncompetitive for TX and CA, battleground for FL. The states with large increases, however, became fierce battlegrounds on the presidential level in 2008 - except for Arizona, which had some attention at the last minute - implying that campaigning and organizing likely played a large role in increasing the Latino electorate in this region.
The New South
A sixty percent increase in the share of the electorate that is Latino as we see in Colorado is damn impressive.
But how about a more than 400% increase? That's what we saw in Mississippi, which went from less than 1% Latino in 2004 to 4% in 2008.
Now, since we're looking at such small numbers, maybe we just see a statistical burp in Mississippi. Let's look elsewhere - we see a 300% increase in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, and Alabama. A 250% increase in Maryland. A 200% increase in South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa, and Minnesota. A 100% increase in Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, North Dakota, Alaska, and New Hampshire.
These are all states that had a 0-3% Latino share of the electorate in 2004 and 2-7% in 2008. While that's small, it's enough now to be critical in close elections - such as the North Carolina race for president.
The interesting bit is that most of these states with dramatic growth have a geographic sweep, from the Deep South up to the Northern Plains (skipping the Southern Plains and most of the Midwest). Latino voters are clearly one important component of the New South.
All these single digit numbers still make me a bit twitchy, so I pulled up some 2000 Census data to look for some confirmation. It turns out there is a relationship between states with a rapidly increasing Latino share of the electorate and states with a high Latino growth rate, especially those with a high proportion of Latinos who say they moved to that state within five years preceding the census. It's a rough relationship, as we would expect when dealing with small numbers, but it looks real. We can conclude that the Latino vote is indeed increasing rapidly in large portions of the country.
Here's how various Latino and Hispanic communities voted at the presidential level in 2008. Brazilian, which would not typically be considered Latino, and Guyanese are included simply because of geography.
Support for Obama ranged from high to overwhelmingly high - except for the Cuban community in Miami-Dade county. This year, a nationwide Latino exit poll (conducted by email) by the William C. Velásquez Institute (WCVI) showed nearly the same results as the National Election Pool exit poll - about 70% for Obama. (In 2004, the National Election Pool had some problems, such as oversampling the Cuban community.)
If we weight each Latino community by its proportion in the Latino electorate, we would come up with about 85% for Obama nationwide. This means the communities used to derive support levels for Obama were more Democratic than the nationwide Latino electorate. We see good evidence for this in the Mexican-American community. In Starr County and select precincts in Los Angeles, more than 95% of the population is Latino, and almost all of them are Mexican-American. Support for Obama in these two locations ran about 10 points higher than support among Mexican-Americans nationwide in the WCVI poll.
We can also see, as with African-Americans, that approval of President Bush in 2005-2006 was greater among Latinos who lived in states where Latinos made up a small proportion of the population, although the trend is much weaker than among African-Americans. Once again, it appears that people tend to vote more uniformly in more ethnically uniform geographies.
Note on names: current exit polls use the term "Latino," so that is what I am using for current data, simply because the data under discussion results from those willing to check a box that says "Latino." As far as I know this is not a term with universal approval from those to which it is applied.
This diary is the tenth in a series taking a close look at the 2008 electorate and exploring three themes: diversity within demographics, progressive feedback loops, and demographic change.
Tomorrow: The European American Electorate: Tribal Politics Persist
Cross posted at Open Left.
Diaries in this series (updated list):
Why Republicans Should Be Really Scared
African-Americans – We Are Not All of Us Alike
East and South Asian Americans – Diverse and Growing
West Asian Americans – Rapid Change
Native Americans – Increasing Participation
Islander Americans – In Need of More Representation
Native Alaskans – An Economic Factor?
Latino Electorate – Increasing Influence
European-Americans – Tribal Politics Persist
“Americans” – You Might Be Surprised
Appalachia – Surprisingly Democratic
Why Republicans Should Be Really, Really Scared
Why Republicans Should Be Really, Really, Really Scared
A Few More Tidbits