The number of eligible Latino voters has reached a new record of 23.7 million this year, according to a study released this week by the Pew Hispanic Center.
That figure marks a massive 22 percent increase in the Latino electorate -- over 4 million voters -- since the 2008 presidential election. Latinos now make up 11 percent of the nation's eligible voters, up 1.5 percent since 2008.
But it’s not all good news for the Latino political community and those who aim to earn their votes.
Voter registration for the nation’s largest minority group has lagged behind others. So too, has participation. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Latinos registered to vote dropped by 600,000. Only half of eligible Latinos voted in 2008, compared to 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to Pew.
It’s not clear how much voter registration drives by Latino civic groups and political hopefuls have changed the dismal registration figure or will shape participation in the November election. Numbers from the four states that record voter registration by ethnicity -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina -- do show that Latino registration has increased since last presidential election.
The growth of the Latino vote in recent years -- particularly the Mexican Americans who account for some 65 percent of the Hispanic population, according to Pew -– has changed political dynamics. Both campaigns have made greater efforts to reach out to Latino voters, and controversial issue of immigration reform has become a must-answer question, closely associated with Hispanic voters.
The surge in eligible Latino voters is widely viewed as a political trend that favors Democrats. No modern-day Republican candidate has ever won a majority of the Latino vote. In 2008, Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote while the GOP nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, pulled in 31 percent.
This election cycle, Romney has stumbled in his efforts to woo Latino voters. Embracing the anti-illegal immigration positions espoused by the rightwing of the GOP during a hard-fought primary played poorly with Latinos, 85 percent of whom favor a path to citizenship for the undocumented, according to a Fox News Latino poll released in February.
The former Massachusetts governor has tried to soften his immigration stance somewhat since moving into the general election, coming out in support of a military-only DREAM Act and finally saying Monday night he would not rescind Obama’s decision to defer deportation for most immigrants under 31 who were brought here illegally before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States continuously for five years with clean criminal records. Romney avoided answering direct questions about the issue five times when Bob Schieffer of 60 Minutes attempted to probe the candidate's immigration plans in June, immediately Obama first made the deferred deportation announcement.
Beyond immigration, Romney has also struggled to convince Latino voters that Obama is to blame for the poor state of the economy.
“When we ask people who they trust more to fix the economy moving forward, they’re telling us by a 2 to 1 margin that they favor Democratic policies,” Matt Barreto of Latino Decision told me earlier this month. “I really think Republican leaders need to talk to Latino voters about the issues that are in the community, instead of assuming that all Latino voters blame Obama for the state of the economy, because that’s just not the case.”
The latest edition of the weekly tracking poll of likely Hispanic voters by Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia had Romney at a new low of 21 percent compared to Obama’s 73 percent.
Latinos made up 52.9 million of the U.S. population in 2011, or about 16.7 percent, according to Pew.