10/08/2012 11:15 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2012

A Matter of Time: Latino Demographics Present Long Term Problem for GOP

The results from the first presidential debate have increased Mitt Romney's chances of winning the upcoming presidential election. But, this could be the last federal elections in which the Republican Party has any chance of winning if the GOP cannot find, in the coming years, an appropriate way to attract the Hispanic vote. According to a report released this week by the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of Latinos eligible to vote this year has reached a record high of 23.7 million people (i.e. 4.2 million potential voters more than four years ago, a growth of 22%). According to the traditional definition, eligible voters are U.S. Citizens ages 18 and older.

In the past, the increase in the potential number of Hispanic voters (who, many years after the famous quote attributed to Ronald Reagan, "Latinos are Republicans. They just do not know it yet," continue to show in the polls their inclination for the Democratic Party), was not enough to tip the political balance of the country, because more than half never even registered to vote. Citing a study by Mark Hugo Lopez and Paul Taylor, the Pew Hispanic Center report says, "the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged to that of whites and blacks by substantial margins. In 2008, for example, 50% of eligible Latino voters casted ballots, compared to 65% of blacks and 66% of whites." At least 3 millon votes were lost.

This trend, however, could be changing. Although there is still no data on the number of Latinos registered to vote in this year's elections, the Pew Hispanic Center report says that "in the only four states that report such records by ethnicity -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina -- the 2012 registration levels of Hispanics have already surpassed the 2008 numbers." It is possible, says the study, that these states do not represent the national trend. But there is a growing awareness of the importance of voting in the community, and powerful organizations such as Univision have organized campaigns like Libera tu voz -- Free your voice -- working with the coalition Ya es hora -- It's time -- to encourage registration of Latinos and their participation in different elections.

But beyond the record, what will really change the landscape in the medium and long term, are the overwhelming forces of demographic trends and the revolution that is taking place in the education sector. According to the results of the 2010 census, in the first decade of this century Hispanics account for more than half of nation's growth. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population has increased by over 15 million people, while the white population has grown by just over two million. Overall, Hispanics have reached 16.3% of the total population. But most important to the future is that in 2010 Latinos represented 23.1% of those under 17, and 20% of those between 18 and 24. This year, for the first time, children born between minorities -- mostly Hispanic-born children -- outnumbered the white newborns.

Added to this is the fact that the educational standards among Hispanics are rapidly improving. Another study by the Pew Research Center showed a few days ago that "the nation's Hispanic student population reached a number of milestones in 2011." They are:

  1. Among all pre-K through 12th grade public school students, a record 23.9 percent were Hispanic in 2011.
  2. 76.3 percent of all Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) degree.
  3. The number of 18 to 24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in college exceeded 2 million and reached a record 16.5 percent share of all college enrollments.
  4. For the first time, Hispanics made up one-quarter (25.2 percent) of 18 to 24-year-old students enrolled in two-year colleges.
  5. Hispanics are now, for the first time, the largest minority group among the nation's four-year college and university students.

With a growing and increasingly more educated population, it is impossible to ignore the Hispanic vote, as Fernando Vila argues in the latest issue of PODER HISPANIC magazine. Vila cites a piece by Ron Brownstein from the National Journal, which states, "in order to win de [2012] election, Mitt Romney would need to win the largest share of the white vote of any republican challenger in history. According to Brownstein, it is certainly a plausible scenario for November, but is probably the last chance the republicans will have at an 'all white' strategy in a general election." In a few years, issues such as immigration or "dreamers" cannot be ignored by any political campaign, or by any Congress, independently of which party is in majority.