May 29, 1998

New Report Finds 2.3 Million Latinos Registered to Vote for the June 1998 California Primary

San Francisco — Latino Issues forum (LIF), a statewide, non-partisan, public policy and advocacy institute, announces the release of "The New Margin of Victory: The Latino Vote in 1998" a new report documenting the rise of the Latino electorate and providing an analysis of how the growth of newly naturalized Latino voters will impact this election year and beyond.

While voting rates in general have decreased in California, Latino voting has increased. Spurred by the growth of newly naturalized voters, young voters and increased attacks on the Latino community there are now over 2.3 million Latino voters registered and eligible to vote in the June 1998 primary, up from one million in 1998. Across the board, Latino low-income, newly naturalized and young voters are voting at rates never seen before. Is the "sleeping giant" finally awake?

After the 1996 presidential elections, many hailed the significant increase in Latino voting. Little is known, however, about this growing segment of California's electorate. For example, are there differences between Latino U.S. born voters and newly naturalized and registered Latino voters? What are the key election issues that pique their attention and motivate Latinos to exercise their right to vote? Who are the new voters that will increasingly decide California's future?

This report, "The New Margin of Victory," focuses on the historical evolution of the Latino vote. The report explores how Latino voters view the issues and candidates for the June 1998 primary and explores the differences between U.S. born voters and newly naturalized and registered Latino voters. This report is intended to provide journalists, campaign consultants, political scientists and the public with a positive view of Latino voters — a view that dispels the "sleeping giant" label and introduces a new description of Latinos as the new "margin of victory."

Highlights of Report

2.3 Million Latinos registered to vote as the June 1998 primary

52% of Latinos registered to vote since 1995

33% of all Latino Voters are naturalized citizens and 67% of Latino naturalized citizens registered to vote since 1995

From 1984 - 1996, Overall voting rates up in California went up only 3% - Latino voting rates increased by 43%

From 1988 - 1996, 1.1 million additional Californians registered to vote 85% of the net increase in registered voters are Latino (910,000)

In 1992, 7 Latino legislators in Sacramento - in 1998, 19 Latino legislators

24% of Latino voters are under the age of 29

Largest segment of Latino voters (18%) report household income under $20,000

In 1996, Lower income Latinos were as likely to vote as higher income Latinos

Latino registered voters are 65% Democrat and 19% Republican


The 1996 presidential elections saw a dramatic change in voter demographics. Approximately 11.5%, or 1.18 million of California's voters in November of 1996 were Latino. In comparison, Latino voters in November of 1984 accounted for only 7.8%, or 825,924 of California's voters. The change in 12 years represents a 43% increase in Latino voter participation and suggests the enormous influence Latinos have accrued in a short time.

Today, Latinos make up a much larger portion of Cali-fornia's electorate and their share is expected to continue to grow as more Latinos become eligible to vote. There are approximately 2.3 million registered Latinos in California eligible to vote in the June 1998 primary — an increase of 18% from 1996.

The power of the Latino vote in California is further enhanced by the decrease in the number of registered Californians who actually vote. For example, the number of Californians who registered and vote in Presidential elections since 1984 has only increased 3%. The number of Latinos who registered and actually voted in these elections increased by 43%, pointing to a greater role for the Latino electorate in the future.

Another indicator of the growing strength of the Latino voter is the number of Latino elected officials. At the federal level, Latinos increased their number serving in Congress with the election of Loretta Sanchez in Orange County (5 Latino members of Congress from California). At the state level, Latino legislators in 1992 totaled only 7 and in six years Latino legislators increased to an all time record of 18, an increase of 157%.


Research findings are based on a review of voter registration files from the California Secretary of State and a survey of Latino voters commissioned by LIF. This poll was conducted from January 5 through 12, 1998. The random poll of 620 registered Latino voters included 92 voter polls conducted in Spanish. All responses have a statistical margin of error between 2.36 and 3.94 percent. The poll was conducted by Godbe and Associates.

Major Findings

The Changing Latino Voter Profile: Who Are They?

Political analysts and campaign managers have devised complicated formulas to determine the profile of a likely voter. The typical factors that election experts use to define likely voters include: over the age of 35, highly educated, moderate to high income, and home owner. Latino voters are disproportionately in the opposite categories. Relative to the general population, Latinos as a group are younger, poorer, less educated, and are more likely to be renters. Using the traditional models of a likely voter, Latinos would be statistically less likely to vote. However, the findings illustrate that the new Latino voter goes contrary to traditional models of voting behavior and necessitates new models of campaigning and voter education.

Age Distribution

The profile of the electorate in California is that of an older, higher income voter. While this is true of the total electorate, for Latinos, nearly 25% are under the age of 29. This is indicative of a younger Latino population as a whole and the high concentration of the Latino population under 29.

Citizenship Status

The number of naturalized Latino voters has increased in the last few years to 33% of the total number of Latino registered voters. The number of naturalized Latino voters is expected to increase in the next several years. In Los Angeles, and San Francisco, more than 600,000 applications for citizenship, many of them from Latinos, await adjudication.

Income Distribution

As with age distribution, the Latino voter income profile contrasts with that of the general population. While the California electorate tends to be higher income, the largest segment of Latino voters (18%) report a household income of under $20,000.

Date of Registration

There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of Latinos who registered to vote within the last three years. Over half (52%) registered to vote since 1995. This number includes both first time registrants and those who have moved and re-registered.

While it is difficult to ascertain just how many are first time voters, we know that a major reason for this increase in newly registered voters is the growth of naturalized voters. For example, of those voters who registered within the last three years, 43% are naturalized citizens, indicating a large percentage of first time voters. Equally as telling is when naturalized citizens registered to vote. Once again, a vast majority naturalized within the last three years (67%).

Voting History

Latino civic participation has been increasing, whereas only 40% of registered Latinos voted in the presidential election of 1992, four years later, in 1996, 72% of registered Latino voters went to the polls — a dramatic 75% increase in only four years. Traditional models of civic participation would predict that lower income voters would be less likely to vote. While historically this may have been true, the emerging voters would be less likely to vote. While historically this may have been true, the emerging voter profile shows near parity in civic participation rates between lower income and higher income groups.

U.S. Born Latino Voters vs. Naturalized Latino Voters

The rapid growth of naturalized voters calls into question the traditional models of understanding the Latino electorate. When comparing the age profile, naturalized voters tend to be older than U.S. born citizens.

The fact that they are older and naturalized gives a positive indication that the record levels of Latino voter participation will continue since older voters tend to vote at high rates. This fact coupled with the record level of voting among the young voters, historically the least active voting bloc, give two positive trends toward the future. Of those Latino voters under 29, 85% are U.S. born citizens.

Comparing the voting history of U.S. born and naturalized voters reveals that the native born historically had outvoted their naturalized counterparts. However, in 1996, the Latino naturalized voters outvoted U.S. born voters.

Policy and Political Recommendations

Develop new and innovative strategies to educate and motivate Latino voters.

Encourage research to understand the effects of the Latino vote at the local, state and national levels and make this research available to a broad audience.

Ensure that bilingual voting assistance, as required by the Voting Rights Act, is provided.

Increase the capacity of the INS to adjudicate the more than one million pending citizenship applications.

Rethink the model of "likely voter" to include the emerging Latino vote.

Maintain and increase voter registration drives, educational campaigns and "get out the vote" drivers to ensure that Latino exercise their right to vote.

Create a comprehensive voter campaign aimed at the 200,000 Latino citizens that turn 18 every year.

"The Latino Vote 1998: The New Margin of Victory" published by the Latino Issues Forum was written by Luis Arteaga, Associate Director, Chione Flagel, Research Associate, and Guillermo Rodriguez, Executive Director, Latino Issues Forum. If you wish to receive a copy of this report contact Latino Issues Forum at (415) 284-7220.