Latino Youth Vote: Bad News and Good

latino youth voteFirst the bad news, let’s get that out of the way. Latino youth are at a double disadvantage when it comes to political participation. Latinos are the group with the lowest likelihood of turnout and across groups young folks are less likely to vote. That means that young Latinos are theoretically the least likely group to participate politically.

Political participation is a result of resources.  Put simply, those with more money and education are more likely to register and turnout.  Latinos have the dubious honor of not only having the lowest resource levels but having suffered the greatest decline in wealth during the recession.  The white-to-Latino ratio of median wealth after the recession stood at 18-to-1; before the recession, that ratio was less than half.  And in terms of educational resources, Latinos are once again at a disadvantage with Latino dropout rates at least doubling those of other groups.

However, rich and poor young folks alike are less likely to turnout than their parents or even grandparents.  In the last election 24 percent of 18-29 year olds voted, while 45 percent of voters 30 and older did.  Even in the youth-centered 2008 election the 18-29 year olds lagged at least ten points behind all other age brackets.  And state voting laws don’t help.  In 2008 in state’s that did not have Election Day Registration young Americans were about nine percent less likely to turnout.  Younger folks are already less likely to turnout and any mechanism that makes the process of voting harder further suppresses the youth vote.

victoria defranceso sotoIt seems like bad news all around.  Especially, since Latinos have the highest percentage of youth, one-third of Latinos are under the age of 18 compared to one quarter for non-Latinos.  Latinos are becoming younger, not older.

The first silver lining is that younger voters are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.  While only 7 percent of the 30 plus electorate was Latino, 15 percent of the 18-29 year old electorate was Latino in the 2010 election.  And in the 2008 election Latinos as well as African-Americans increased their turnout from the previous presidential election.  This data is good news not just because it shows a tangible increase in Latino youth voting, but because we know from political science research that voting is habit forming.  Once a person has voted, they are more likely to do so in the future.

Latino youth will also be the target of intense voter mobilization campaigns.  More importantly these mobilization campaigns are being tailored to the likes and interests of Latino youth.  In other words, political participation is being made cool by groups such as VotoLatino with voter registration booths at Romeo Santos bachata concerts and free downloads of music from artists such as Pitbull.

victoria defrancesco sotoWhile young Latinos are on the low end of the resource and education scale they are quickly making advancements.  Research by the Pew Hispanic Center recently showed that Latinos are gaining jobs at a faster rate than whites or blacks.  Additionally, the latest college enrollment figures show that Latinos had record growth with 32% enrollment, an increase of five percent over 2009.  While we can’t ignore the challenges Latinos youth face, these advancements together with targeted Latino youth mobilization makes for tangible good news.

 Victoria Defrancesco Soto

This post originally appeared on NBCLatino

Published by the LA Progressive on April 1, 2012
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About Victoria DeFrancesco Soto

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Faculty Fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2007 during which time she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. DeFrancesco Soto was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine.

Victoria’s research analyzes how human thought and emotion shapes political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, race and ethnic politics, and immigration. Her academic research has been widely published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. In 2008, Dr. DeFrancesco Soto was Northwestern University’s principal investigator for the Big Ten Battleground Poll, a public opinion survey of voters for the 2008 Presidential election. She is currently working on a book manuscript that analyzes the emergence of conservative feminism.


  1. Tyrannus Evisceratus says:

    Another good article. I think I will only read this other from now on.


  1. [...] to put women’s lives in the line of fire; in an era of vanishing clinics and mounting violence.2. Latino Youth Vote: Bad News and Good. Victoria Defrancesco Soto: Political participation among young Latinos is being made cool by [...]

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