Wednesday, August 13, 2008 |There are not likely to be any huge surprises in November — no hanging chads, no landslides, no Truman upsets. The two presidential candidates are close in the polls, meaning we could have again, as in 2000 and nearly again in 2004, a minority president, but given our electoral system and political polarization, that would be no surprise.
This election, like the past two, will come down to a handful of states. What will make it unique is the Latino vote, ready to explode. Because of the rapidly growing Latino population — Latinos account for half the U.S. population growth this century — we’ve thought Latinos would make the difference in previous elections, but it didn’t happen. Here’s why:
According to U.S. Census data, only 17 percent of all Latinos voted in 2004, compared with 51 percent of all whites and 39 percent of all blacks. True, a higher percentage of Latinos was either under 18 or not U.S. citizens, but, in addition, a lower percentage of eligible Latino voters turned out. Only 47 percent of eligible Latinos voted in 2004, compared with 60 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites.
Latinos have been largely self-disenfranchised in recent elections. Too many haven’t registered to vote, and, if registered, haven’t voted.
Only 7.5 million Latinos voted in the 2004 election (out of a total population of 46 million), but as low as their vote has been, it’s been rising, and Latino organizations promise a spectacular increase this year. Between the presidential elections of 1988 and 2004, the Latino vote doubled. The goal this year is to increase it by nearly 50 percent over 2004 — to 10 million voters.
If delivered, the significance of the increase will not be in total votes, but where they are cast. Latinos make up a large bloc of voters in four key states that George W. Bush carried by fewer than 5 percentage points in 2004. They comprise 37 percent of the eligible electorate in New Mexico, 14 percent in Florida, 12 percent in Colorado and 12 percent in Nevada.