A long waited demographic milestone is being celebrated by Latinos in California this month. In March of this year, the population of Latinos in California is set to surpass the population of whites. At 39 percent, Latinos would become the largest ethnic/racial group in California, compared to 38.8 percent for Whites. This demographic change would make California the second state (after New Mexico) in terms of Latinos having plurality. The demographic shift was predicted by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance Report for the 2014-2015 budget summary.
Texas may be next. According to the Pew Research Center data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the Latino population in Texas stood at 10 million and the non-Hispanic whites at 11.6 million, making up 38.2 percent and 44.4 percent of the state’s residents. This milestone also is an indicator of a slow but steady change in terms of demographics in the US. Just twenty-four years ago, the white-non Hispanics comprised more than half (57.4 percent) of the state population while 25.4 percent of California were Latino.
The growth of the Latino population in the state has led to an increase of Latino voter registration over the last years. A study conducted by the UC Davis Center for Regional Changes states that from 2002 to 2010, the Latino vote grew 67.1 percent (671,510) in absolute numbers, far outpacing the 37 percent growth (2,712,082) in the overall vote during the same period. There has also been an increase of Latino voter participation (19.7 percent, 18.3 percent, and 15.8 percent respectively) for the elections in 2012, 2008, and 2004. The increase in Latino voter participation has resulted in numerous victories for the community with the passage of the bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and the passage of the state DREAM Act. Latino voters in California are also credited with helping Governor Jerry Brown win in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
With that being said, the growth in numbers hasn’t always translated in more voter registration or voter participation in elections. Though there are more Latinos voting in California than ever, there are many that don’t. In 2012, 5.9 million Latinos in California were eligible to vote. Yet according to Mi Familia Vota, only 2.5 million Latinos voted in California during the 2012 election, down from the 2.9 million in 2008. To make matters worse, there are about two million Latino eligible voters who have yet to register to vote and another 2 million Latinos who are eligible to become U.S. citizens but haven’t. Arnulfo De La Cruz, California State Director for Mi Familia Vota told VOXXI, “I always tell people, it’s not that Latinos don’t want to participate in elections, it’s that we—as a community, as political institutions, as campaigns—we don’t engage them enough to give them the opportunity to participate.” De La Cruz also noted this is especially true during midterm elections, when Latino voter participation rate is at its lowest. Therefore, Mi Familia Vota is starting a month-long campaign in May in hopes of getting more Latinos to participate in the primary elections. As November elections near, they plan to ram up their efforts. The campaign has a three pronged approach: registering more Latinos to vote, interacting with low-propensity voters and helping Latino permanent residents become U.S. citizens.
Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.