Report

Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters

  • June 27, 2005

Hispanics accounted for half of the population growth in the United States between the elections of 2000 and 2004, but only one-tenth of the increase in the total votes cast, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

This gap between the very substantial growth of the Hispanic population and much more modest growth in Hispanic electoral clout has been developing for a generation but has widened considerably in recent years.It is primarily the result of the two key demographic factors that distinguish Latinos from whites and blacks in the electoral arena: a high percentage of Hispanics are either too young to vote or are ineligible because they are not citizens.

As a result, a population increase of 5.7 million Latinos between 2000 and 2004 yielded only 2.1 million new eligible voters. In addition, Hispanic voter participation rates lag those of whites or blacks so that the number of Hispanic voters increased by just 1.4 million.

The combination of demographic factors and participation rates meant that 18 percent of the total Latino population (adults as well as children, citizens and noncitizens) went to the polls in 2004, compared with 51 percent of all whites and 39 percent of all blacks.

Despite these factors, however, the Hispanic population has been growing at such a strong rate that it still has led to an increase —- albeit a small one -— in the Hispanic share of the overall electorate. In November, 2004, Hispanics accounted for 6.0 percent of all votes cast, up from 5.5 percent four years earlier. During this same period, the Hispanic share of the population rose from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 14.3 percent in 2004.

The Hispanic population is not only much larger than the Hispanic electorate but it also differs in some key characteristics, including language usage. The share of Latino adults living in households where only Spanish is spoken is three times higher in the general population than it is among voters.

This report relies primarily on a supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS) that is conducted every November of an election year. The CPS is the large monthly survey of U.S. households conducted by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics which is best known as a source of unemployment rates. The November supplements ask whether individuals were registered to vote and whether they actually voted but do not ask which candidates or political parties they supported. Thus, the CPS data does not directly provide any information on how Hispanics voted in the 2004 election.