The Hispanic Vote in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries

Feb 21, 2008

As the Democratic presidential nomination contest heads for a showdown in Texas on March 4, Hispanics have emerged as a potentially pivotal constituency in the battle between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Latinos have already made a big mark in the primaries and caucuses held so far. Their share of the Democratic primary vote has risen in 12 of the 15 states for which exit polling makes it possible to compare 2008 and 2004 turnout shares. And in the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5, Latinos voted for Clinton over Obama by an aggregate margin of nearly two-to-one. They were especially important to Clinton in California, where they comprised 30% of the turnout (up from 16% in 2004) and voted for her by a larger margin than did all voters statewide.

Since Feb. 5, however, Obama has won 10 states in a row and made deep inroads with many voting groups (including whites, lower-income voters and middle-aged voters) that had previously been strongly aligned with Clinton. It remains to be seen if Obama can make similarly big gains with Latinos.

In Texas, Latinos make up 36% of the total population and 25% of the eligible electorate. A mostly Democratic-leaning constituency, Hispanic voters could account for a third or more of the turnout in the Democratic primary. (In Ohio, the other big state that holds a primary on March 4, Latinos make up just 1.5% of the eligible electorate).

As the Texas showdown looms, this report examines the turnout, demographic characteristics, opinions and voting patterns of the Latino electorate in Democratic primaries and caucuses held so far in 2008.1 Where possible, it draws comparisons and contrasts among Latino, black and white voting patterns. It also compares Latino turnout in 2008 with turnout in 2004. The report is based on an analysis of Super Tuesday exit polling data about Latinos that the Pew Hispanic Center received on a contractual basis from Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, the firm that conducts exit poll surveys for the National Election Pool, a national consortium of media organizations.

Key findings: 

  • In a year when the turnout in the Democratic primaries and caucuses has risen sharply across the board, Latinos have been a growing share of the turnout in 12 of the 15 states for which exit polling permits a comparison between 2008 and 2004. The most noteworthy increase came in California, where Latinos were 30% of all Democratic primary voters on Feb. 5, compared with their 16% share in 2004.
  • Latinos have shown a marked preference for Clinton, supporting her over Obama by 63% to 35%, according to aggregated exit polls from 16 Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday.
  • Hispanic voters in the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries were markedly younger than voters in other racial and ethnic groups. More than one-in-five Hispanic voters on Super Tuesday were ages 17 to 29, and more than half of all Hispanic voters were younger than 45 years old. By comparison, just one-third of white voters in the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries were younger than 45.
  • Hispanic men and women of all ages, educational levels and incomes voted for Clinton over Obama on Super Tuesday. For example, younger Hispanics (ages 17 to 29) voted heavily for Clinton (62%) over Obama (37%) on Feb. 5, in contrast to their counterparts among whites and blacks.
  • On Super Tuesday, Hispanics were more likely than whites to say that race was an important factor in deciding their vote--28% of Hispanics said this compared with 13% of whites. However, Hispanics who said that race was important voted for Clinton by about the same percentage (64%) as did Hispanics who said race was not important (63%). By contrast, whites who said race was important were more likely to vote for Clinton than were other whites. And blacks who said race was important (29% of all black voters) were more likely to vote for Obama than were other blacks--87% did, compared with 80% of blacks who said race was not important.
  • Latinos were also more likely than whites to say that a candidate's gender was important in their voting decisions on Super Tuesday. Latinos for whom gender was important were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton than those who said gender was not important.
  • A majority of Hispanic voters on Super Tuesday (53%) said that the economy is the most important issue facing the country, a greater share than that of white voters who said the same thing (45%).

Read the full report The Hispanic Vote in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries on the Pew Hispanic Center Web site.

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