WASHINGTON – In a year when Democrats are struggling to energize supporters, Hispanic voters appear significantly less motivated than the rest of the U.S. to cast election ballots even though two-thirds of Latino registered voters say they'll vote Democratic in their congressional race, a Pew Hispanic Center study found.
The center's national survey, released Tuesday, found 51 percent of Latino registered voters were absolutely certain they would vote — compared with 70 percent of U.S. voters — and 65 percent of Latino voters planned to support the Democrat in their congressional district, compared with 47 percent of U.S. voters.
They are pledging that support even though only 26 percent of the voters said the policies of President Barack Obama's administration have helped Latinos. Thirteen percent said the administration's policies hurt Latinos, while 51 percent said they had no effect.
"The Latino vote appears to continue to strongly identify with the Democratic Party," said Mark Lope, Pew Hispanic Center's associate director.
A 51 percent Latino voter turnout would be a slight increase in turnout over 2008. But midterm turnout for all voters generally is lower than in presidential years. In 2006, about 32 percent of eligible Latino voters showed up at the polls.
"Even though they say they plan to vote, many things may get in the way of actually turning out to vote," Lope said.
About 19.3 million Latinos, the nation's largest minority group, are eligible to vote, Pew Hispanic estimates. Two of every three live in California, Texas, Florida or New York.
Latinos voted more than 2-to-1 for Obama in 2008. But the sagging economy and outrage among some voters has the Democratic Party concerned about a general apathy among its core supporters and some newer and independent voters.
Latino voter turnout is generally lower than for U.S. registered voters overall. But the Latino share of all voters increased from 6 percent in 2004 to 7.4 percent in 2008, according to Pew Hispanic's data. Nearly half of Latino eligible voters say they voted in 2008.
Some have suggested Latino voters would stay home because of lack of action on immigration reform legislation by the Obama administration. However, an Arizona immigration law and the Obama administration's attempt to thwart may also serve as rallying points for get-out-the-vote drives among Latinos.
Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said his group is targeting new Latino voters in Texas, Arizona and Colorado who are less likely go vote. Mi Familia Vota is a group trying to increase Latino voting numbers.
"Neighborhoods where we are working, from Houston to Phoenix, Yuma to Denver, we have seen the Latino community being interested in the elections out of the outrage" over Arizona's immigration law and anger over largely Republican votes against legislation that would have given many young people brought to the country illegally by their parents a chance to become legal U.S. residents.
Immigration did not rank as a top voting issue for Latino registered voters in the Pew Hispanic survey. It came in fifth behind education, jobs, health care and the federal budget deficit.
But two-thirds of registered Latino voters say that have talked about the immigration issue with someone they know in the past year. Those who had were more motivated to vote, the survey found.
The Pew Hispanic Center's survey also found:
— Thirty-eight percent of Latino voters whose primary language is Spanish are absolutely certain to vote this year.
— Republican Latino registered voters are more likely than Democratic Latino registered voters to say they have given the election quite a lot of thought, 44 percent versus 28 percent.
— Among Latino registered voters who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, 18 percent say the GOP is better for Latinos than the Democratic Party, while 60 percent say they see no difference.
The Pew Hispanic Center survey is based on telephone interviews done Aug. 17 through Sept. 19 by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) with 1,375 Latinos ages 18 and older. Of those surveyed, 618 were registered voters. Some interviews were conducted in Spanish. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for the sample of all Latinos, plus or minus 4.88 for registered voters.