April 30, 2004


The Latino Electorate (1960-2000)

By John P. Schmal

The Latino electorate of the Twenty-First Century has become recognized as a powerful force that no political candidate in the United States can afford to ignore. Since the turn of the Millennium, one political analyst after another has stressed the fact that the Latino electorate can no longer be ignored and, in fact, may play a pivotal role in all future elections. Although their share of the electorate has been relatively small over the last half century, Hispanic voters, starting in 1960, have felt that they have could play an important role in the election of the President.

1960 - John F. Kennedy vs. Richard M. Nixon

Starting in 1960, Latinos recognized that their vote could be significant in presidential races, especially very close races. Early in the year, “Viva Kennedy” clubs were organized by Mexican-American activists in nine states to support the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in the 1960 Presidential election.

The general election held on November 8, 1960 was one of the closest in history. More than sixty-eight million votes were cast, with Kennedy receiving 34,221,344 votes (49.72%) and Nixon taking 34,106,671 votes (49.55%), a plurality of only 114,673 votes (less than 1/5 of one percent).  Kennedy received 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.

With such a small margin of victory, many political analysts believe that the Hispanic vote actually helped Kennedy to win.  Although Latinos made up a very small portion of the electorate, they voted in large numbers for Kennedy, who received about 85% of the national Hispanic vote.

Even more significant is the fact that Kennedy received 91% of the Hispanic vote in Texas, a state with a significant Mexican-American population. However, even with the Latino vote, Kennedy’s victory in Texas was by a razor-thin margin, having carried the state by only 46,000 votes. Kennedy also carried Illinois by only 9,000 votes, another state in which the Latino vote had been mobilized by the “Viva Kennedy” movement.

1964 - Lyndon Baines Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater

The November 3, 1964 Presidential Election provided with Lyndon  Baines Johnson with 42,825,463 votes, or 61% of the total popular vote, while Barry Goldwater  received only 27,146,969, or 38.4% of the popular vote. In this case, the Latino vote was not considered crucial to Johnson’s victory.

However, according to the former public policy analyst and author, José de la Isla, Lyndon Baines Johnson received 90% of the Mexican-American vote and 86% of the Puerto Rican vote in his 1964 election. The relationship of LBJ with the Mexican American electorate was analyzed in Julie Leininger Pycior’s, “LBJ and Mexican Americans: The Paradox of Power” (Univ. of Texas Press, 1997).

1968 - Richard M. Nixon vs. Hubert H. Humphrey

In the 1968 Presidential Election, the Democratic candidate Humphrey garnered a large percentage of the nation’s Hispanic votes. According to the estimates of José de la Isla, Hubert Humphrey won 87% of the Hispanic vote, while Richard Nixon received only 10% of the Mexican-American vote and 15% of the Puerto Rican vote. The Latino vote, however, did not help Humphrey to win the election. Richard Nixon won the popular vote with 31,710,470 votes (43.2%) against Humphrey’s 30,898,055 votes (42.6%).  The American Independent candidate, George Wallace, received 9,906,473 votes (12.9%).

In the 1968 election, Nixon lost Texas to Hubert H. Humphrey by fewer than 40,000 votes. Some GOP strategists figured that a shift as small as 5 percent in the Mexican-American votes would have carried the state’s 26 electoral votes for the Republican ticket.

1972 - Richard M. Nixon Vs. George McGovern

In November’s Presidential contest, Nixon won by a landslide, garnering 46,740,323 votes (60.7%) against the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, who polled only 28,901,598 votes, or 37.5% of the popular vote. Nixon won the electoral vote over Mc-Govern by 520 to 17. Among the other candidates, John G. Schmitz of the American Party, received more than a million votes, or 1.4% of the popular vote.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon took steps to get a larger share of the Hispanic vote. Even before the 1972 election, explains José de la Isla, President Nixon had already named some fifty Spanish-speaking civil servants, mostly Mexican Americans, to top government positions. (By contrast, the Johnson administration had named only six Spanish-speaking officeholders).

In 1972, the Latino voting age population numbered 5,616,000, of which only 44.4% were registered to vote. According to the Federal Election Commission, 2,103,000 Hispanics voted in the 1972 election. In the end, the Spanish Speaking Committee for the Re-election of President Nixon was able to help Nixon win 35% of the Hispanic vote in the 1972 Presidential Election. This was a significant gain over Nixon’s 1968 performance with the Hispanic electorate.

1976 - Gerald R. Ford vs. Jimmy Carter

More than 81,555,889 votes were cast in the Presidential election. As the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter of Georgia received 40,825,839 votes, or 50% of the popular vote. The incumbent, Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, received 39,147,770 votes, or 48% of the popular vote. The electoral college vote was also close, with Jimmy Carter receiving 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240.

At the time of the 1976 Presidential Election, 2,098,000 Hispanics voted, representing only 2.4% of the total voters in the Presidential election. According to Network News Exit Polls, 82% of Latinos voted for Jimmy Carter, while Mr. Ford received only 18% of the Latino electorate’s vote. However, in an election as close as this one was, it is possible that the Latino vote was significant in helping the winner.

1980 - Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan

In the 1980 Presidential Election, the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan of California soundly defeated President Jimmy Carter, winning 43,901,812 popular votes (50.9%) against Jimmy Carter’s 35,483,820 votes (41.1%).  Ronald Reagan’s showing with the electoral college was even more impressive, winning 489 votes against Carter’s 49.

At the time of the 1980 elections, 56% of Latino residents age 18 and over were citizens. But many Latinos who were qualified to vote had not actually registered. In fact, U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that only 36.3% of qualified Hispanic citizens were actually registered to vote (8,210,000 voters). And, when the election took place in November, only 46.1% of qualified Hispanic citizens voted.  In the end, out of the total Latino population in the U.S., 2,453,000 persons - or 29.9% - actually voted for President.

According to CBS and New York Times Exit Polls, Jimmy Carter received 60.1% of the Hispanic vote.   In contrast, the Los Angeles Times exit polls indicated that Carter had received 76% of the Latino vote, and that Reagan received only 22%. Ronald Reagan’s strongest support came from the Cuban-American precincts of Florida, where he received 80% of the vote in the predominantly Cuban precincts.

1984 - Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale

Out of 92,652,842 votes cast in the November 1984 Presidential Election, Ronald Reagan won the popular vote by 54,455,000 votes (58.8%) to 37,577,000 (40.5%) against Democratic candidate, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota. Reagan also won the Electoral College vote by a wide margin: 525 to 13.

At the time of the 1984 Presidential Election, 61.4% of Hispanics in the United States were classified as citizens, but only 40.1% of the qualified Hispanics were actually registered to vote. As it turns out, half of all qualified Hispanic citizens voted (3,092,000 persons), but this represented only 32.6% of all Hispanics living in the United States at that time.

However, even with their steadily increasing numbers, Latinos in 1984 represented only five percent of the national electorate.  According to CBS / New York Times Exit Polls, Mondale, the Democratic candidate, received  more than 66% of the Hispanic vote, while Reagan received only 34.82% of the vote. The Los Angeles times Poll indicated that Reagan received 47% of the Latino vote in 1984, while Mondale received 53%.  However, as in 1980, Cuban precincts in Florida voted for Ronald Reagan with over 82% of the vote in the predominantly Cuban precincts.  Mondale received only 12.41% of the Hispanic Precinct votes in Dade County.

1988 - George H. W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis

In the November 1988 Presidential Election, George H.W. Bush received 47,946,000 of the popular vote (53.4%) against Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who received 41,016,000 votes (45.6%).  Bush received 426 electoral college votes, while Dukakis received only 111.

In the 1988 election, 35.5% of Latinos had been registered to vote. However, according to government statistics, only 3,710,000 Latinos showed up for the presidential elections. These voters constituted 28.8 per cent of all Latinos registered to vote. And, by 1988, Latinos made up 7% of the national electorate.

According to CBS / New York Times Exit Polls, Bush won 30.85% of the Hispanic nationwide vote, and Dukakis received 70.15% of the nationwide vote. However, in Miami’s heavily Cuban precincts, Dukakis recived only 15.45% of the vote. According to the Los Angeles Times and CNN Election Day Polls, Dukakis received 65% of the Latino vote, while Bush received only 33% of the Latino vote.

1992 - George H.W. Bush vs. William J. Clinton

In the November 1992 Presidential Election, 104,600,366 votes were cast for President. The Democratic Candidate William J. Clinton of Arkansas clinched the Presidency, winning 44,908,254 votes (42.93%). The incumbent George H.W. Bush, received 39,102,343 votes (37.38%), while the Independent candidate, Ross Perot received 19,741,065 votes (18.87%).

In 1992, 14,688,000 Latinos were of voting age. However, only 62.5% of eligible Hispanic citizens were registered to vote. When the final vote was tallied, only 4,238,000 Hispanics - or 28.9% of this ethnic group - had actually voted. After the results were tallied, it was determined that Latinos now accounted for 8% of the national electorate.

Exit polls and analysis conducted about the 1992 election indicate that Bill Clinton received 61% of the Latino vote, while Bush received 25% and Perot received 6%. The Los Angeles Times exit polls gave different results, indicating that 51% of Latinos voted for Clinton, 27% for Bush, and 21% for Perot.

However, Bill Clinton did lose Florida. He received only about 22% of the vote in the predominantly Cuban-American precincts of Dade County. On the other hand, George Bush carried the Hispanic precincts of Dade County with approximately 70 percent of the vote, far surpassing his proportion of the vote either nationally or statewide. In striking contrast, 55% of non-Hispanic Whites and 85% of African Americans in Dade voted for Clinton.

1996  - William Clinton vs. Bob Dole

With more than 96 million votes cast in the 1996 Presidential Election, President Bill Clinton received 47,402,357 votes, or 49.24% of the popular vote. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas received 39,198,755 votes, receiving only 40.71% of the votes.  By this time, the Latino voting age population of the U.S. had reached 18,426,000.  But only 11,209,000 of these Hispanics were citizens qualified to vote. And, of this group, only 6,573,000 were registered to vote. The number of Hispanics who actually voted was 4,928,000, representing 26.7% of the total Latino population. As these statistics indicate, basically one in every four Latinos in the United States voted to elect the President of the U.S. in that year.

In the 1996 election, Latinos voted overwhelmingly Democratic, with Bill Clinton winning 71% of the Hispanic votes. On the other hand, the Republican Senator Bob Dole received only 21%, while ten percent of the vote went to third-party candidates, including Ross Perot who received more than 8 million votes.  It is believed that Clinton’s increased support from Latinos may have been a reaction to the Republicans and their support for anti-immigration proposals around the country.

Out of the almost 6.6 million Latinos who were registered to vote in November 1996, four states had large numbers of Hispanics:  2.1 million in California, 1.6 million in Texas, 570,000 in Florida, and 540,000 in New York. Once the votes had been tallied, it was indicated that Latinos cast 16% of the vote in Texas.

In Florida, Clinton received 35% of the Cuban-American vote, a 15 percentage point improvement over 1992. This vote helped Clinton to win the state, which no Democrat had won since 1976. In Arizona, Clinton received 90% of the Latino vote, making him the first Democrat to win the state since 1948.

2000 - Albert Gore, Jr. and George W. Bush

In the controversial Presidential Election of November 2000, Democratic candidate Albert Gore, Jr., won the popular vote by 50,996,064 to 50,456,167, but George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, won the office of President by winning the electoral vote by 271 to 266.

By 2000, the Latino population of the United States reached 35,305,818, representing 12.5% of the national population, while the Hispanic voting age population had reached 22,963,500. Once the final tally had been made, it was estimated that 7,378,300 Latino votes were cast. This was an impressive increase of 2,450,300 over the 4,928,000 Latino votes cast in the 1996 Presidential Election.

It is very likely that the minority electorate played a role in winning the popular vote for Vice President Gore. At least 90% of African American voters cast their ballots in favor of Gore. A smaller number of Latinos - approximately 67% - cast their votes for Gore. Thirty-one percent of Hispanics voted for Bush.

In 2000, George W. Bush fared best with Latino voters living in the South (48%), while Latino voters living in the East gave Gore 74% of their vote. Bush was only able to garner 22% of the Latino vote in the Eastern states. In four states, the Hispanic vote was particularly important: California, Texas, New York, and Florida.

In California, the 2000 census indicated a significant increase in the Latino population, which numbered 10,966,556, or 32.4% of the total state population. California also had the nation’s largest number of Hispanic voters (3 million), representing 13.4 percent of the electorate. In California, 53.6% of Latinos were citizens but only 29.5% were registered to vote. When Election Day arrived, 1.6 million of the Latinos  - or 24.5% of all Latinos in California - cast their ballot. In this state, Gore won the Latino vote by an impressive 67% to 28%.

According to the 2000 census, Texas, the native state of George W. Bush, had a Latino population amounting to 6,669,666 people, representing 32% of the total state population. 3.1 million Latinos were voting age, representing 71.9% of the total Latino population. Out of the 1.9 million Latinos registered to vote in Texas, 1.3 million actually voted in the 2000 election. Their portion of the state electorate was 16%. The Latinos in Texas voted for Al Gore for President by a 54% to 43% margin.

In 2000, New York contained the third largest concentration of Hispanic voters (8.2 percent of the state electorate). An estimated 603,000 Latinos were registered at the time of the election, and 502,000 cast ballots in the Presidential Election, representing 29.4% of the total Latino population. In the 2000 census, the Latino population of New York numbered 2,867,583 (15.1% of the total state population). Of this figure, 1,050,293 persons were of Puerto Rican heritage and culture, representing almost 37% of the state’s Latino population. As a group, Puerto Ricans largely favored Gore, giving him 80% of their vote (in contrast to Mr. Bush’s 18% showing).

Florida turned out to be the pivotal state in this election, and it was the Latino vote which may have carried the state for Bush. In the 2000 census, Latinos made up 16.8% of the state population. At the time of the election, 802,000 Latinos were registered to vote, and by the time the voting booths had closed, 678,000 of the Latinos had voted.  In Florida, Latinos made up 12.5% of the state electorate.

In Florida, George W. Bush carried the Hispanic vote by 50% to 48%. The Florida Hispanic vote, however, was largely Cuban, and the Cuban community has historically voted Republican. Democratic presidential candidates have traditionally received only 13 percent to 15 percent of the Florida Cuban vote. In 2000, unofficial returns showed that Mr. Gore won the heavily Cuban Miami area by a very slim margin of 39,000 votes. However, in the two heavily Cuban precincts, the 510th and the 555th, Mr. Bush won 79 percent and 89 percent respectively. In the final tally, George W. Bush carried the Florida popular vote by 2,912,790 to 2,912,253.  Although the results were contested at first, on December 13, 2000, Gore conceded to George W. Bush.

Although the Latino population of the United States continues to increase steadily, the growth of their electorate has been less robust until recently. However, community activists are trying to are taking great efforts to induce Latinos to register to vote and then to visit the polling booths on Election Day. In all future elections, the Latino electorate is likely to play an important role in electing the President of the United States.

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