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Over half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020 — a historic first

About 1 in 10 voters in last year's election were Latino, with "extraordinary" registration and turnout among younger and U.S.-born Hispanics.
Image: A salon owner tapes flyers to a door as part of a campaign to get voters to the polls in the largely Hispanic community of Port Richmond in Staten Island, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 2020.
A salon owner tapes flyers to a door as part of a campaign to get voters to the polls in the largely Hispanic community of Port Richmond in Staten Island, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 2020.Bebeto Matthews / AP

Even without the kind of spending on Latino turnout that some had hoped to see, they registered and voted in record numbers in the 2020 presidential election, according to a City University of New York study.

The election saw a dramatic rise in registration and voting by some 18.7 million Latinos, so that about 1 in 10 voters was Latino.

The big forces behind what the CUNY researchers described as the “extraordinary” Latino participation were record registration and turnout by younger Latinos ages 18 to 44, and a jump in the registration and voting by U.S.-born Latinos.

“For the first time, there are more Latinos registered than African Americans and we know that trend is going to continue,” said Luis Miranda, a Democratic consultant who serves on the boards of Latino advocacy groups and is the co-author of the study by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at CUNY.

Before 2020, the percent of Latinos eligible to vote who actually voted had never surpassed 50 percent, the researchers said.

But it hit 53.7 percent in November to help Democrat Joe Biden unseat then-President Donald Trump, a Republican. That compares to 47.4 percent in 2016, when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Record voter registration —and turnout

Experts on Latino voting have often cited low voter registration as a big reason for low Latino turnout.

Previous elections had shown that once Latinos are registered, about 80 to 83 percent of them vote.

In 2020, 61.1 percent of all Latino citizens 18 and older registered to vote, up from 57.3 percent in 2016. That’s higher than a peak registration of 59.4 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected president. 

In addition, of Latinos who were registered to vote in 2020, 88 percent showed up, beating the 2016 mark of 83.1 percent.

But Latinos had the lowest registration and voting rates among major racial and ethnic groups, similar to other elections.

The trajectory of increasing Latino registration turnout will be helped by the large number of Latinos who turn 18 every year and who are increasingly registering and voting.

Latinos 18 to 24 didn’t have the biggest turnout jump by age group, but rose from 38.4 percent turnout in 2016 to a 44.1 percent turnout in 2020.

That compares to Latinos in the 25-44 age group, 56.6 percent of whom voted in 2020, up from 47.4 percent in 2016. 

A "first" when it comes to U.S.-born voters

For the first time in the history of U.S. presidential elections, voting by Latinos born in the United States was at about the same rate as Latinos who are naturalized U.S. citizens.

That’s due to increases in voting by U.S.-born Latinos and a drop in registration by naturalized Latinos, as well as a marginal increase in naturalized Latinos' voting rates, the researchers said. 

More than 71 percent of all Latino eligible voters were born in the U.S. Their registration rates went up from 56.4 percent in 2016 to 61.5 percent in 2020 and their voting rose from 45.5 percent to 53.5 percent last year.

“These increases among Latinos born in the U.S. were the principal statistical cause of the overall surge in registration and voting rates in the 2020 presidential election,” the CUNY report states.  

Latino voting surges were seen in Arizona, where their voting rate rose from 47.4 percent in 2016 to 60.8 percent in 2020, and in Texas, where it rose from 40.5 percent of eligible Latino voters to 53.1 percent.

Surges in Latino voting also were seen in states where their populations are relatively small, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.

CORRECTION: (May 11, 7:40 P.M.) A previous version of this article misidentified the university associated with the study. It is the City University of New York, not New York University.

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