Election 2012: Latino Voter Turnout May Determine Outcome

Latino eligible voters -- at 23 million, larger than the population of many entire Latin American nations -- could decide the presidential election if they turn out to vote in large enough numbers.

The Pew Hispanic Center expects 12.2 million Latinos to vote in this election.

Historically the Latino turnout has been low. During the 2008 election, only 50 percent of those eligible voted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That’s compared to 64.4 percent of the whites; 64.7 percent of blacks; and 47.6 percent of Asian-Americans.

Gregory Rocha, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso, said the age of eligible voters among Latinos is a key reason for the low turnout.

“It tends to be much younger then the general population,” said Rocha.

They simply don’t have the levels of education of other ethnic groups, he added. As eligible voters get older, the likelihood of voting increases.

New Mexico, a state with only five electoral votes, has the largest make-up of Latino voting population per capita, at 39 percent of eligible voters.

A recent Real Clear Politics poll shows that New Mexico is Obama-leaning at 51.7 percent and Romney at 41.7 percent.

Rocha said two states -- Colorado, where 9 percent of registered voters are Latino, and Nevada, at 14 percent -- are swing states where the Hispanic turnout could sway electoral votes.

“It’s a big enough bloc to have an effect on the outcome,” he said.

Latinos will make up 11 percent of the country’s electorate, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In this election, 69 percent of Latinos favor President Obama, while 21 percent support Mitt Romney.

Latinos voting early in Las Cruces, New Mexico told Fox News Latino that many of their friends and family members feel discouraged to vote, because they believe candidates are not advocating enough for their needs.

“They respond to big business. They respond to money. And they’re not responding to the needs of the working class people,” said Luis Quinones, a retired educator.

Velia Chavez, a small business owner in Mesilla, New Mexico, cast her ballot early on Tuesday.

“We want to have our voice heard. And it is very important that they get out and vote,” said Chavez.

"A lot of Latinos don’t think that it’s important to come and vote and then they like to complain,” she added.

Chavez said eligible voters who choose not to show up at the polls shouldn’t complain if they do not bother to vote.

Latinos are expected to have a heavy impact on voting, with their population growing at a rapid pace.

Between 2000 and 2010, the population grew by 43 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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