This month, Latinos are projected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic whites living in California and become the state’s largest racial or ethnic population.
Latinos are expected to make up 39 percent of California’s population, edging past non-Hispanic whites who will make up 38.8 percent. This places California as the second state, behind New Mexico, where Latinos make up the largest percentage of any racial or ethnic group.
Texas could be the next state added to that short list. According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos made up 38.2 percent of the population in 2012 while non-Hispanic whites made up 44.4 percent. Other states that could follow include Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
The demographic shift in California was projected earlier this year in a report published in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014-2015 budget summary. According to the report, the shift was expected to come at least seven months earlier but was delayed due to lower than anticipated Latino birth rates.
California’s Latino vote increases
Latinos in California are not just growing in numbers. They’re also increasing their political influence by coming out to vote.
Though fewer Latinos in California came out to vote in the 2012 election than in the 2008 election, the Latino vote in California overall has increased significantly in the last decade. A study by UC Davis Center for Regional Change shows that Latinos made up 19.7 percent of the total number of people who voted in California in 2012, up from 18.3 percent in 2008 and 15.8 percent in 2004.
The number of registered Latino voters has also increased significantly. About 3.8 million Latinos were registered to vote in California in 2012, up from 3.2 million in 2008.
“What’s happening is that we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of Latinos that are participating in elections,” Arnulfo De La Cruz, California state director for Mi Familia Vota, told VOXXI.
The growth in Latino voter participation, he said, is resulting in “huge victories for our community.”
Some of the victories he pointed to include the passage of a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses in California. Gov. Brown signed that bill into law last October. A month before that, he signed the Trust Act, which mandates local police officers to refrain from detaining undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes.
De La Cruz added that Latinos have also played a major role in deciding the outcome of regional and statewide elections. For instance, he said Latinos helped Brown, who’s a Democrat, win the gubernatorial race in 2010. He picked up 64 percent of California’s Latino vote, while his Republican opponent Meg Whitman won 31 percent.
Still more work to do
Though more Latinos in California are coming out to vote, there are still many who don’t.
“There’s a lot more work to do to ensure that Latinos who are eligible to register actually register and to make sure they vote,” De La Cruz told VOXXI.
In 2012, there were 5.9 million Latinos in California who were eligible to vote, the largest Latino eligible voter population nationally. But according to Mi Familia Vota, only 2.5 million Latinos actually voted in California during the 2012 election, down from 2.9 million in 2008.
Furthermore, De La Cruz said that currently in California there are more than 2.5 million Latinos who are eligible to become U.S. citizens and about 2 million Latino eligible voters who are not registered to vote.
“I always tell people, it’s not that Latinos don’t want to participate in elections,” he said. “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 said this is especially true during midterm elections, when Latinos have lower participation rates.
“We all know that elected officials, because they have limited resource, they tend to go talk to the people who always vote because those people will determine who wins,” he said. “So our goal at Mi Familia Vota is to add new voters into this process, because we think that by adding new voters, it allows our voice to increase and our political power to grow.”
Starting May 7, Mi Familia Vota in California will begin a month-long campaign to motivate Latinos to participate in the primary elections. Then, as the general election in November nears, they plan to escalate their efforts.
They will target areas with the lowest Latino voter participation rates. Efforts will focus on three goals: registering Latinos to vote, helping Latino legal permanent residents become U.S. citizens and engaging low-propensity Latino voters.
Like in past years, De La Cruz said Mi Familia Vota plans to encourage Latinos to participate in the upcoming elections by talking to them about how voting can impact the issues important to them.
“When we do that successfully, we have definitely been able to get people to vote,” he said.
Originally published on VOXXI as Latinos to surpass whites in California this month